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‘Our Children, Our Future’ coalition fights for state budget dollars

WVPA Photo by George Hohmann   Stephen Smith, director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition and a member of the Our Children, Our Future Campaign’s Steering Committee, stands behind a giant check for $13 million during a recent press conference at the Capitol. The organizations targeted for budget cuts “are operating with very little money as is,” Smith said. He estimated the $980,000 targeted for cuts would generate $13 million in jobs, economic activity and other benefits.
WVPA Photo by George Hohmann
Stephen Smith, director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition and a member of the Our Children, Our Future Campaign’s Steering Committee, stands behind a giant check for $13 million during a recent press conference at the Capitol. The organizations targeted for budget cuts “are operating with very little money as is,” Smith said. He estimated the $980,000 targeted for cuts would generate $13 million in jobs, economic activity and other benefits.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With the Legislature preparing for its special budget session, the Our Children, Our Future Campaign to End Child Poverty is still arguing for a larger investment in the future of the state’s children.

According to this statewide coalition of advocates for children and families, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s proposed budget cuts funding by $980,272 to children’s programs. As legislators prepare for finalize a budget plan, the coalition worked to gain support for all programs.
Among the efforts, the Our Children, Our Future Campaign to End Child Poverty held a press conference Feb. 27 to urge state legislators to remove the proposed cuts in children’s programs. The coalition is composed of more than 170 organizations from around the state, ranging from churches to unions and chambers of commerce.
Stephen Smith, director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition and a member of the Our Children, Our Future Campaign’s Steering Committee, said, “Personally, as the adult survivor of child sexual abuse, as someone whose own son has benefitted from home visiting, there is nothing more valuable — both because it is the right thing to do and because it is the financially smart thing to do — than investing in early childhood. Yet this governor has cut early childhood by $980,000, which is a drop in the bucket of the state budget.”
The organizations targeted for cuts “are operating with very little money as is,” Smith said. They estimate the $980,000 generates $13 million in jobs, economic activity and other benefits. A giant check for $13 million was propped up in front of Smith to make the point.
“We’re saying, ‘Restore those $980,000 in cuts and make sure we don’t threaten these $13 million in leveraged funds,’” Smith said.
Jim McKay with Team for West Virginia Children Inc. and state coordinator for Prevent Child Abuse West Virginia, said, “Frankly, these proposed cuts really undermine an already fragile child abuse prevention infrastructure for our state. They are challenging families when they’re already stressed with the vulnerable time of a difficult economy.“The needs are increasing and yet the funds are decreasing.”

McKay said Tomblin’s budget would cut $357,900 from domestic violence programs, a 14.3 percent reduction; $250,000 from in-home family education programs, a 25 percent reduction; $150,464 from Family Resource Networks, an 8.5 percent reduction; $111,908 from child advocacy centers, a 7.4 percent reduction; $80,000 from the Children’s Trust Fund (which promotes child abuse prevention programs), a 26.7 percent reduction; and $30,000 from the Domestic Violence Legal Services Fund, a 7.5 percent reduction.

Gregory Puckett, executive director of Community Connections Inc., the Family Resource Network for Mercer County, said, “Children and families across our state are truly dying from the problems that we see.

“We’ve got problems down in the southern coalfields, where I’m from, that you just don’t see anywhere else in the state. Over in McDowell County 49 percent of the kids live with neither biological parent. They’re trying to get the base services they need,” and Family Resource Networks provide many of those services.

Puckett said that when he started with the Family Resource Network in Mercer County in 2001, it received $50,000. “Over the years that’s been cut down to $40,000. Last year it was down to $38,400 and now we’re looking at going down to $34,000 to operate an entire agency…we can’t take the cuts anymore. We just can’t do it.”

Smith noted that the legislative session ends March 8, so the next several days will be crucial.

“This is the final stretch,” he said. “Through dozens of regional forums, 4,000-plus messages to legislators, and constant presence in the Capitol, we have put ourselves in a position to win seven victories this year… but only if we continue to push!”

Here’s the status of the coalition’s other top priorities going into the final week of the session:

— Increasing the minimum wage: Passed the House on Feb. 12, awaiting Senate Finance Committee action.

— Increasing kids’ physical activity during school: Passed the Senate on Feb. 25; awaiting House Health and Human Resources Committee and House Education Committee action.

— Creating a Future Fund: Passed the Senate on Feb. 21; awaiting House Judiciary Committee and House Finance Committee action.

— Require prescription for pseudoephedrine, which is used to make methamphetamine: Passed the Senate on Feb. 18; awaiting House Judiciary Committee action.

Here’s the status of other coalition agenda items:

— Help municipalities re-develop vacant and dilapidated properties: Passed the Senate Feb. 25; awaiting House Judiciary Committee action.

— Ban the use of food-stamp benefits to buy sugary drinks: Died in the Senate Health Committee.

— Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: Passed the House on Feb. 5; awaiting Senate Labor Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee action.

— Increase the tobacco tax: Died in the House Health and Human Resources Committee.

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