By ANDREA LANNOM
BECKLEY, W.Va. — Congressman Evan Jenkins discussed recent initiatives including three bills that have gone through Congress with the goal to address human trafficking.
In a Monday phone interview, Jenkins discussed two recent initiatives — efforts against human trafficking and measures aiming to combat substance abuse.
“Any suggestion that this is an overseas, international problem or that it’s not in our backyard or in other parts of the country is simply not true. This is a horrific crime and reality even in our own state.”
Last year, the National Human Trafficking Crisis Line received more than 20,000 calls. In West Virginia, there were 41 calls last year and 19 cases of human trafficking reported. Most of those cases, 14, were sex trafficking.
Since 2007, West Virginia has had 232 calls and 68 total cases, according to the National Human Trafficking Crisis Line’s website.
“Unfortunately, a single case of human trafficking of any sort is a very real problem but it may be overshadowed by the other news of the day,” Jenkins said. “It is real to us because our office has actually been involved in this issue in dealing with a human trafficking case in our state.
“A significant part of our congressional office and others is the constituent case work and while that focuses often times on Social Security, disability and veterans’ benefits, our office has actually been involved in a human trafficking case in West Virginia,” Jenkins said. “I know it’s real. I know it’s here and I know it’s serious.”
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed three bills dealing with human trafficking — the Enhancing Detection of Human Trafficking Act, which aims to train rail, air and border security to know what to look for and be able to detect signs of human trafficking; the Empowering Law Enforcement to Fight Sex Trafficking Demand Act, which allows state and local law enforcement to use Byrne JAG grants to fight human trafficking; and the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act, which reauthorizes funding for domestic and international anti-trafficking programs including aid for victims of trafficking.
All three measures have been sent to the Senate, which has read them and referred them to committees.
Jenkins also discussed High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program funding.
According to The New York Times, the Office of Management and Budget proposed cutting the drug policy office budget by about 95 percent to $24 million from $388 million.
In the Financial Services appropriations bill, HIDTA is funded at $254 million for the 2018 fiscal year. Programs within the Office of National Drug Control Policy are funded as well. This bill was voted out of committee last week.
The financial services bill includes funding for other programs including $91 million for the Drug-Free Communities program and $2 million for drug court training.
The committee also passed the 2018 fiscal year Commerce, Justice and Science bill, which includes $103 million in funds for CARA including $43 million for drug courts, $14 million for prescription drug monitoring, $12 million for residential substance abuse treatment, $7 million for veterans treatment courts. It also funds the Economic Development Administration and rejects proposed elimination of the program. It also includes $2.6 billion for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Many counties in West Virginia are designated as HIDTA including southern West Virginia counties of Raleigh and Wyoming.
“We faced challenges again in the new administration. The initial budget blueprint issued from President Trump’s budget office posed significant cuts to HIDTA,” Jenkins said. “We know HIDTA works. We know we need that funding in our state and last week, we were successful in getting the HIDTA program fully funded, no cuts moving forward to tackle the drug crisis.”
Jenkins also discussed the American Health Care Act, which is currently pending in the Senate.
Jenkins said he supported the bill because the health care system is broken. He said he would not support a single-payer health care system.
“I believe in empowering patients, giving patients choices and options and not having a one-size-fits-all program,” he said. “I fought hard to make sure the House version protected the most vulnerable and Medicaid programs. I made sure we had protected and had written into the law that people with pre-existing conditions would not be denied coverage moving forward.
“I also said very clearly that did I agree with everything in the House’s passed version? No. But I know the status quo is unacceptable.”
Jenkins said it’s too early to say whether he agrees with the Senate’s version.
“It’s too early … because they don’t have a final version yet,” he said. “The bottom line is the health care system is broken. We need to protect our most vulnerable, empower patients to have choices and we need to get big government out of the exam room and allow patients and doctors to decide what’s best for the patient.”
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