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Organizers reject bid to cancel West Virginia’s Bridge Day

By JOHN RABY Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Organizers of West Virginia’s largest outdoor festival have rejected a move to cancel the event for the second straight year after Gov. Jim Justice encouraged it to continue.
The Bridge Day Commission rejected 4-2 a proposal from one of its members to call off the Oct. 16 event over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Justice made his pro-festival comments at a news conference Wednesday. His stance was announced to the commission just prior to its vote at a meeting a few hours later in Fayetteville.
The governor said events such as college football games were moving forward as planned, so Bridge Day should, too.
“Right now from my standpoint I have no intention whatsoever in shutting down these large events,” Justice said.
COVID-19 cases are rampant across West Virginia. Records were smashed this week for the number of people hospitalized and there are more than 27,600 active virus cases statewide, according to health data.
Tens of thousands of people typically show up on the third Saturday of October to watch parachutists, zip liners and rappellers on the 876-foot-high (267-meter) New River Gorge Bridge.
Justice spoke up after he said state Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby told him last week about the possibility that Bridge Day would be canceled.
“I said no way, no way,” Justice said. “All we can do is encourage. It’s their event. But from the standpoint of the government, I absolutely think wholeheartedly we should go forward with Bridge Day.”
Earlier this month the commission decided to required masks for most people attending Bridge Day.
People come from across the world to attend the event. Festivalgoers typically line the center of the 3,000-foot-long (914-meter) bridge shoulder to shoulder trying to get a good look at parachutists catapulting themselves off the nation’s third-highest bridge.
Bridge Day is the only day of the year that the bridge is open to pedestrian traffic.
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Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.

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WVa gov: Being unvaccinated is ‘bad choice’ as records fall

By JOHN RABY Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia hospitals continue to be overrun with COVID-19 patients as the number of people seeking treatment for the virus hit a record of 893 on Wednesday, officials said.
That’s 41 more than Monday’s record and is up from the total of 52 people hospitalized for the virus on July 4, according to state health data.
Gov. Jim Justice said 745 of those hospitalized, or about 85%, are unvaccinated.
“If you have chosen to be unvaccinated, in my opinion, it was a bad choice,” Justice said at a news conference. “It was your choice.”
Justice has pleaded with residents to get their coronavirus shots but has balked at issuing either a vaccination or new mask mandate. He said mandating masks is “penalizing” some people. But he said he’s not convinced that it’s going to significantly help as the pandemic goes unchecked, although he applauded counties statewide for mandating masks in schools. An earlier indoor mask requirement was lifted in June as the number of cases dropped.
The number of virus patients in hospital intensive care units hit a record 275 on Monday. On July 4, there were 17.
“We don’t need mandates, but you need to make a great decision right now,” Justice said. “More and more people are dying.”
The number of vaccinated people with underlying conditions who have died, called breakthrough cases, reached 104 on Wednesday, up from 69 at the end of August. That total represents about 3.2% of the 3,296 total deaths from the virus statewide.
There have been 212 deaths reported this month, far surpassing the total for all of August and includes 14 added to the count Tuesday after being reconciled with official death certificates.
And the number of current statewide virus cases, about 27,700, has doubled over the past three weeks, according to health data.
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Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.

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WVa Emergency Management has new system for disaster grants

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s Emergency Management Division has a new software system to help manage federal disaster grants.
The software will help manage projects, request and track reimbursements, and submit necessary paperwork, the agency said in a news release.
The Hazard Mitigation Grants Program and Public Assistance grants sections are implementing the new manager.
“The system makes the management process easier throughout the life of the grant, making projects more successful,” EMD Director GE McCabe said.
Training for the new system covers how to submit applications and other topics. Eligible personnel can register at https://wv.emgrants.com.

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Energy funds awarded to 16 WVa businesses, ag producers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Sixteen small businesses and agriculture producers in rural West Virginia are receiving more than $177,000 from a federal government program that helps install renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements.
U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito announced the awards Wednesday as well as $50,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to Woodlands Community Lenders through the Rural Business Development Grants program.
The energy grants are through the Rural Energy for America Program.
Awards of around $19,000 each will go to 121 West Washington, Pitsenbarger Farms and Opossum Creek Retreat, with smaller amounts to 3D Construction Properties, Sogefi USA, Appalachian Holiday Family Sales, Pop’s in Glenwood, Red House Farm, Mustain Farms, Swiftees, Atlantic Wallace, Zazen, Thinkstone Cellers, Kreinik Manufacturing Co., Silver Mist Stables and Rolling Thunder Vegetable Preserve.

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West Virginia woman gets nearly 3 years in wire fraud scheme

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia woman has been sentenced to nearly three years in federal prison for defrauding Charleston-area businesses.
Misty Brotherton-Tanner, 41, was sentenced in federal court in Charleston for her April guilty plea to wire fraud and money laundering. Prosecutors said Wednesday that she also was ordered to pay about $537,000 in restitution.
The Charleston resident provided bookkeeping and accounting services for several businesses. Court records showed Brotherton-Tanner electronically transferred money between accounts, including her own, from at least 2014 to 2020, even though she was not allowed to pay herself.
The scheme included listing herself as an employee for the various businesses, setting up accounts in the name of fictitious workers and adding them to business accounting software, and lying that she had paid state and federal taxes for the businesses, prosecutors said.
Brotherton-Tanner also stole money at the request of her mother, Lois Brotherton, who pleaded guilty for her role and was sentenced to probation.

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COVID hospitalizations, cases set records in West Virginia

By JOHN RABY Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The number of positive cases and people hospitalized for the coronavirus in West Virginia both smashed records on Monday as Gov. Jim Justice scolded residents who continue to balk at receiving COVID-19 vaccines.
At least 40% of the state’s population above age 12 have not received all doses, according to health data. Efforts by Justice and others to urge residents to do so have resulted in only minimal improvement in recent weeks.
“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Justice said at a news conference.
Justice has balked at issuing either a vaccination or new mask mandate. An earlier indoor mask requirement was lifted in June as the number of cases dropped. Some health care systems have issued their own vaccine requirements for employees.
The number of confirmed virus cases statewide totaled about 8,860 last week, breaking the weekly record of about 8,200 from early January. Two weeks ago marked the third-highest week of reported cases during the pandemic.
There were a record 852 people hospitalized for the virus on Monday. That blew past the mark of 818 set on Jan. 5 and was a jump from 810 on Saturday. Such cases had bottomed out at 52 in early July before rising sharply over the past two months.
The number of virus-related deaths in West Virginia this month, 154, has already surpassed the deaths for all of August. There have been 3,238 virus-related deaths in the state since the pandemic began.
At the news conference, Justice introduced Linda Lanier, who said her adult son, Joe Goodnite, refused to get vaccinated and contracted COVID-19 on a family vacation. He’s been in a Charleston hospital for more than six weeks and remains on a ventilator.
Lanier said her son “listened to all the negative and false accusations about vaccination,” she said. “Being in the medical field myself, I tried to convince him. However, it didn’t work. He listened to his friends. He listened to social media. And he just listened to what I call the garbage that’s out there.”
But while he was still able to talk in the hospital, “he told people. ‘Get vaccinated. You don’t want this stuff,'” Lanier said.
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Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.

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Former employee pleads guilty to stealing from nonprofit

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — A former employee of a West Virginia nonprofit organization has pleaded guilty to theft of federal funds, officials said.
Ruth Marie Phillips, 69, of Chesapeake, Ohio, admitted on Monday that she stole funding from the River Valley Child Development Services in Huntington, which provides programs and services to children and families, a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia said.
Phillips was director of business and finance at the organization for more than 30 years and was responsible for all financial operations, according to court records.
The organization received more than $7 million in federal funding from July 2016 to June 2017 and Phillips used her position of trust and authority to steal nearly $1 million in that time span, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. She also admitted to stealing more than $4,7 million from the organization from December 2013 through August 2020, the statement said.
Phillips faces up to 10 years in prison, a fine of at least $250,000, and restitution in the amount of $4,7 million. Her sentencing was set for Dec. 13.

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Legionella bacteria resurfaces at West Virginia hospital

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — Tests show bacteria that causes the severe form of pneumonia known as Legionnaires’ disease has resurfaced at a West Virginia-run hospital, health officials said.
Routine screening found Legionella bacteria at the Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital in Huntington. The hospital is operated by the state Department of Health and Human Resources. The building where the bacteria was detected did not house patients.
In April the hospital replaced all faucets and a hot water heater and installed a recirculation pump after the bacteria first was detected in two sinks in the hospital’s administration building.
The bacteria in the latest tests was found in the same places as in April: a CEO restroom and a former human resources break room in a basement, the DHHR said in a news release.
Legionnaire’s disease can be dangerous to people with lung or immune system problems. It is spread by inhaling droplets from contaminated water sources. The disease can be treated with antibiotics.

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World War II era ‘Rosies’ honored in West Virginia

By TAYLOR STUCK, The Herald-Dispatch
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — Marie Scheff could do it, but she didn’t like it.
The 95-year-old woman was among thousands of women who took jobs in factories during World War II, replacing the men who went to war and oftentimes working on planes or equipment for the war effort. These women are now referred to as “Rosies,” for Rosie the Riveter — the star of a workforce recruitment campaign who said “We Can Do It.”
Scheff worked in a plant in Chicago that made earphones for pilots. The work was soul-destroying, Scheff said Sept. 3 during an event honoring Rosies at Woodlands Retirement Community in Huntington.
“It was mind-boggling, to do the same chore day after day, month after month,” Scheff said. “It’s not to be romanticized. We had to do it.”
Keynote speaker for the event, Trevellya “Tee” Ford-Ahmed, said the Rosie legacy is more than stepping up to do “man’s” work or being caregivers or keeping things in order; it’s about putting all those skills together to be something greater.
Ford-Ahmed and 13 brothers and sisters grew up in London, West Virginia. All her brothers joined the armed forces, and two of her sisters joined the Women’s Army Corps.
Rosies are frequently associated with working in factories, but thousands also worked for the military — checking the science, writing the correspondences (as women had the typewriting and shorthand skills) and “making sure the bills got paid,” Ford-Ahmed said.
One of Ford-Ahmed’s sisters went to West Virginia State University for one semester before joining the Women’s Army Corps. It was her dream to go to college, but their father could only save enough money working in the coal mines for one semester.
“The only job she could get in West Virginia as a Black woman was cleaning houses, so she went into the Army,” she said.
Her other sister also joined, but to this day, at more than 90 years of age, refuses to say what kind of work she did, as she swore an oath to never reveal it when she got the job.
Scheff said Rosies are romanticized these days, just like John Wayne movies romanticized active war, but that’s OK. It helps the people who lived through those harrowing times rearrange their memories.
She herself likes to believe her brother, a Navy pilot, was wearing one of the earphones she worked on as he destroyed an enemy ship in the South Pacific, for which he received the Navy Cross.
Ford-Ahmed said there are still Rosies today, actively using their unique skills as women to make the world better.
The group joined others around the world in ringing a bell at 1 p.m. on Sept. 3 to honor the work of the original Rosies.

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Democrats seek corporate, wealthy tax hikes for $3.5T plan

By LISA MASCARO and MARCY GORDON Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats unveiled a sweeping proposal for tax hikes on big corporations and the wealthy to fund President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion rebuilding plan, as Congress speeds ahead to shape the far-reaching package that touches almost all aspects of domestic life.
The proposed top tax rate would revert to 39.6% on individuals earning more than $400,000, or $450,000 for couples, and there would be a 3% tax on wealthier Americans with adjusted income beyond $5 million a year. For big businesses, the proposal would lift the corporate tax rate from 21% to 26.5% on incomes beyond $5 million, slightly less than the 28% rate the president had sought.
In all, the tax hikes are in line with Biden’s own proposals and would bring about the most substantive changes in the tax code since Republicans with then-President Donald Trump slashed taxes in 2017. Business and anti-tax groups are sure to object. But Democrats are pressing forward.
Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the chairman of the tax-writing Ways & Means Committee, said Monday the proposals, taken together, would “expand opportunity for the American people and support our efforts to build a healthier, more prosperous future.”
It’s an opening bid at a daunting moment for Biden and his allies in Congress as they assemble the massive package that is expected to become one of the largest single domestic policy measures considered in decades. The president’s “Build Back Better” agenda includes spending on child care, health care, education and strategies to confront climate change. It is an ambitious undertaking on par with the Great Society or New Deal.
Republican critics decry the sweep of Biden’s plan, suggesting it slopes toward a Western European-style socialism, and they particularly reject the taxes required to pay for it, bristling because it would reverse the GOP tax cuts that were approved just a few years ago.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the proposal is “the last thing American families need.” All GOP lawmakers are expected to vote against it.
But Republicans are largely sidelined as Democrats rely on a budget process that will allow them to approve the proposals on their own, if they can muster their slight majority in Congress.
Democrats have no votes to spare to enact Biden’s agenda, with their slim hold on the House and the Senate split 50-50 and Vice President Kamala Harris the tiebreaker if there is no Republican support. Democratic congressional leaders have set a target of Wednesday for committees to have the bill drafted.
One Democratic senator vital to the bill’s fate says the cost will need to be slashed to $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion to win his support.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has suggested it’s time for a “strategic pause,” and cautioned there was “no way” Congress will meet the late September goal from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for passage, given his wide differences with liberal Democrats on how much to spend and how to pay for it.
“I cannot support $3.5 trillion,” Manchin said Sunday, citing in particular his opposition to raising the corporate tax rate above 25%, a figure he says will keep the U.S. globally competitive.
Manchin is not alone, as other centrist lawmakers have raised concerns. Restive Democrats from high-tax, heavily Democratic states like New York, New Jersey and California are pushing for a repeal of the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions that was imposed by the 2017 Trump law. Neal indicated Monday that the issue is under serious consideration.
Finding compromise will be a daunting project as progressives, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., are angling for the most robust package possible. As chairman of the Budget Committee helping to write the bill, Sanders has noted that he and other members of the liberal flank had initially urged an even more robust package of $6 trillion.
“For me, this is not a particular number, but it is making sure that we meet this moment,” said Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., a member of House leadership. “The pandemic has shown us that we cannot continue to have an economy of haves and have nots.”
The White House welcomed the preliminary tax plan, which keeps to Biden’s promise not to tax anyone making less than $400,000. The proposal “makes significant progress towards ensuring our economy rewards work and not just wealth,” said deputy press secretary Andrew Bates.
The House, Senate and White House are working together to align their plans ahead of this month’s deadlines, though some differences are emerging that will need to be resolved.
The House tax proposal was pitched as potentially raising some $2.9 trillion, a preliminary estimate — but it would go a long way toward paying for the $3.5 trillion legislation. The White House is counting on long-term economic growth from the plan to generate an additional $600 billion to make up the difference.
Much of the revenue raised would come from the higher taxes on corporations and the highest earners, increasing the individual tax rate to 39.6% from the current 37%.
Looking at wealthy individuals, Neal is proposing an increase in the top tax rate on capital gains for those earning $400,000 a year or more, to 25% from the current 20%. Exemptions for estate taxes, which were doubled under the 2017 Trump tax law to now $11.7 million for individuals, would revert to $5 million.
Also proposed are increases in the tax rate on tobacco products and a new tax on non-tobacco nicotine delivered by e-cigarettes.
The broader blueprint from Democrats proposes spending billions for rebuilding infrastructure, tackling climate change and expanding or introducing a range of services, from free prekindergarten to dental, vision and hearing aid care for older people.
Congressional committees are hustling to wrap up their work to meet this week’s timeline from Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to have the bill drafted. Pelosi is seeking a House vote by Oct. 1, and it would then go to the Senate. That’s near the Sept. 27 timeline for voting on a slimmer infrastructure plan favored by moderate lawmakers.
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Associated Press writers Hope Yen and Josh Boak contributed to this report.