By Dan Heyman
Advocates for early-childhood and family-support programs have delivered a symbolic $13 million check to West Virginia lawmakers – money they say could be lost if the state goes ahead with budget cuts.
The state support for these programs allows them to leverage $13 million a year in federal and charity money. Del. Nancy Peoples Guthrie, D-Kanawha, said her peers on the House Finance Committee hadn’t realized how much outside funding the programs bring into West Virginia. But now, she said, the committee is scrounging to find ways to avoid the cuts.
“To cut them and have them lose federal dollars as a result of a cut that we would make, it doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “I think that when we made that case, they hadn’t thought about it.”
The programs offer services such as child-abuse prevention and home visitation for families at risk.
Greg Puckett, executive director of Community Connections, the Mercer County Family Resource Network, said that while lawmakers talk about problems such as substance abuse and kids in unhealthy home environments, his team is in the trenches, where those problems all tie together. Puckett said these programs are some of the best ways to address them.
“If we come back in and work with our local legislators and increase the capacity of our economic development, then we can actually reduce substance abuse,” he said. “And we can give families hope and we can give families opportunity.”
If the programs have to cut back, Puckett said, a lot of people will lose a last resort. He cited one current case, of a woman his agency just helped when she couldn’t afford a home repair project.
“I had a lady call me in my office, and she said, ‘I don’t have a door on my trailer.’ It’s one of those things where they know to call us,” he said. “When those services are extremely limited anyway, then these people are not going to have a place to turn.”
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s budget blueprint would cut nearly $1 million next year from these and related programs. Tomblin has cited reduced tax revenue as causing a big budget gap, although critics say much of it is due to tax cuts.