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Health advocates want funding restored

By David Gutman, Staff writer

A group of children’s health advocates wants the Legislature to restore about $1 million in state funding — vetoed in March by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin — for programs that address child abuse, domestic violence and early childhood health.

Tomblin vetoed the funding, along with millions from other programs, in an effort to limit the money taken from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to about $100 million.

The total cuts amount to only 0.02 percent of the state’s annual budget, what Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha, referred to as a “rounding error,” but advocates say will have big effects.

“If I thought the economic effects of these cuts made any sense, then I would be quiet about it,” Guthrie said. “We may end up costing the state more money in the long run than if we restore these cuts.”

Several others, on a conference call set up by the Our Children, Our Future Campaign, echoed that thought, pointing to studies showing that money spent on early childhood programs results in exponential savings down the road on things like health care, lower use of social services and reduced corrections costs.

Tomblin has said that the cuts were difficult but necessary.

“What I’m attempting to do is maintain the balance of the Rainy Day Fund that will keep our bond rating up. The last thing we want to do is overspend the money and watch our bond rating decline, like it did back in the ’80s,” Tomblin said after he made the vetoes in March.

Stephen Smith, director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, said he and others will meet Friday with Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss and Secretary Karen Bowling, of the Department of Health and Human Resources, to discuss reinstating the programs’ funding.

Hallie Mason, Tomblin’s public policy director, said they could not make any decisions until that meeting happens.

“I’ve talked with both secretaries, there’s some ideas floating around, that meeting needs to occur and the secretaries need to advise the governor before we can make any commitments to add anything to the special session,” Mason said.

Kiss chaired a task force on early childhood planning that released a report in January supportive of most of the programs Tomblin cut.

That report is accepting public comments. Mason referred to it as a draft and said that when it is finalized in the fall there would be another discussion of a broader range of social programs and their funding.

“Until it’s final and it’s complete, I don’t have it,” she said. “I do think it was supportive of the programs, but it didn’t prioritize at the time, it didn’t talk about whether the programs were duplicative.”

Tomblin cut about $360,000 in grants to the state’s 14 licensed domestic violence shelters. Those programs serve about 16,000 people each year, according to a report issued by the Our Children, Our Future Campaign, an alliance of groups focused on child poverty in West Virginia.

That’s the largest cut of the six programs that the campaign is attempting to get re-funded.

The programs that were cut use their state funds to leverage about $14 million in private and federal funding, according to the report. Its unclear how much of that money could be lost if the state cuts stay in place.

“It’s directly going to compromise your efforts to bring money into your community,” said April Miller, chair of the West Virginia Alliance of Family Resource Networks. “You lose hours and time and people and you’re continually replacing people because these jobs don’t offer benefits and we’re lowering pay every year.”

Mason pointed out that if you include that federal money and other sources of revenue, the programs budgets were cut by less than 7.5 percent, the amount that many state agencies have had cut from their budgets the last two years.

There are 46 family resource networks throughout the state that work in communities to coordinate and provide various social services. They were cut by $150,000.

In-home family education programs, which work to educate parents on child health and improve school readiness, were cut by $250,000.

Jim McKay, director of Prevent Child Abuse West Virginia, said that would result in layoffs for home visitors and 75 fewer families receiving services.

“These cuts are not just figures on a spread sheet,” McKay said. “These cuts are real, they will hurt families and kill jobs.”

Tomblin’s initial January budget included the cuts, but the Legislature reinstated the funding, leading to Tomblin’s vetoes.

He vetoed the funding on the same day in March that he announced new tax credits that could give up to $25 million to a medical project at The Greenbrier resort, a juxtaposition that particularly rankled the programs’ supporters.

Jeff Allen, executive director of the West Virginia Council of Churches, called the budget “a moral document, reflecting our values.”

Smith pointed out that the state had no problem finding an extra $1.2 million last week for extra advertising at the Division of Tourism to combat negative attention from the water crisis.

“Big picture here, the government is downsizing because of revenue, we’re also downsizing other programs,” Mason said. “These programs weren’t picked out specifically for reductions.”

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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