Justice extends school closures, tax deadlines due to coronavirus

Gov. Jim Justice briefing the press and public Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of the WV Governor’s Office)

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice announced Wednesday that schools will continue to stay closed for the next two weeks and tax deadlines would be pushed back.

Justice, speaking during a virtual briefing at the Capitol, said schools would remain closed until April 20. Justice first requested that Acting State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch close the schools March 13 with the possibility of re-opening in two weeks. Justice said with coronavirus cases increasing, he didn’t see a way to re-open schools.

“I am very very hopeful our children will be able to go back to school at some point and time, but we’re not there right now,” Justice said. “We need to give our families proper time to be able to make arrangements in every way…I’m very hopeful that by April 20 we can go back to school, but we’ll have to see.”

In a statement Wednesday, Burch said feeding programs for school children would continue. Many counties are providing meals for the week at one distribution to limit contact as much as possible.

Schools are continuing to send home packs or provide online learning opportunities. The Department of Education also received a waiver to suspend all state assessments and federal accountability for the 2019-2020 school year.

“Our schools are the backbone of communities. It is important that our families are supported during this time in our state,” Burch said. “We have all had to pull together and find ways to address unforeseen challenges, and I know our hard-working educators and school personnel will do what is needed to support our children.”

The West Virginia National Guard is also helping with meal distribution to students and families, including sending out 30-day food supplies, Adj. Gen. James Hoyer said.

“The Child Nutrition Program with the state…and county boards of education still continues to go well,” Hoyer said. “It is working for our students and we’ll continue to work to improve that.”

Also Wednesday, Justice announced he was asking State Tax Commissioner Dale Steager to move the tax filing and payment deadline from April 15 to July 15 to mirror the federal government’s move. A bipartisan group of legislative leaders wrote a Letter to Justice Wednesday asking for the state tax deadline to be moved.

The letter was signed by Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson; Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion; Senate Finance Committee Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley; House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay; House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison; and House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley.

“This will enable West Virginia taxpayers to seamlessly file their state and federal tax returns at once,” the letter stated. “Individuals, business owners and tax preparers in our state need clarification on this important matter.”

Justice said he supported moving the deadline, but needed to talk with state tax and revenue officials to determine what that move would affect. The fiscal year ends June 30.

Justice said he received assurances from the federal government that the third coronavirus stimulus package being considered by the U.S. Senate will help the state and make it possible to move the tax deadline.

“We’ve worked a lot on this,” Justice said. “It’s not that we’ve been pushing this or kicking it down the road. All along we’ve been working and trying to find any way and every way we can fit this together and make it work.”

Justice also said that he is waiving all interest and penalties on property tax filings until May 1. Property taxes were due March 1 with a deadline of Wednesday, April 1. Penalties and interest are accrued after April 1. Justice said more information would be available on the State Tax Department website today.

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.


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