Budget Beat – February 27, 2015

Legislative Session Enters Crunch Time

With March right around the corner, and cross-over day looming, time is running out for legislation to pass during the 2015 Legislation Session.

Here’s a quick recap on keys issues we’ve been following:

  • Legislation to gut the current Prevailing Wage is now under consideration by the House after a compromise was reached in the Senate. 
  • While Right to Work legislation appears to have stalled for the time being, a lot can happen during the session’s final days.
  • Today the Senate Government Organization Committee is scheduled to take up legislation to that would write into law the recommendations of the Governor’s Early Childhood Planning Task Force. It would also make sure that the Early Childhood Advisory Council is empowered to spend this year strategizing how to implement those recommendations.
  • As of today, there has been no movement in the House on legislation that would require drug testing of TANF recipients. The bill passed the House Government Organization Committee on February 11 and is now awaiting action by the House Finance Committee.

For more on why this policy would not only be expensive to administer but also ineffective when we look at how its worked in other states, here is Sean’s op-ed from this week’s Charleston Gazette.

West Virginia Has One of the Largest Drops in Number of Uninsured

With implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2014, the number of people without health insurance in West Virginia has dropped by nearly seven percent. According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, West Virginia ranks 5th in the nation with only Arkansas, Oregon, Washington and Kentucky seeing greater improvements.

 WV uninsured rate

More Austerity, Less Prosperity in State Budget

Next week the WVCBP will release its annual Budget Brief which looks at the governor’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The story is much the same as last year with the governor trying to close the budget gap, caused by ongoing tax cuts, with temporary solutions.

One recommendation in the report is an increase in the state’s tobacco tax for the first time in over a decade. A bill with bi-partisan support was introduced in the Senate last week that would raise the tax by $1 a pack to $1.55, very close to the national average. Here’s more in the Beckley Register-Herald.

Business tax cuts are taking their toll on the budget. With little to no room in the budget for salary increases, here’s a look at where West Virginia stands compared to its neighbors in terms of wages paid to teachers and public workers:
teacher salaries

 public workers salaries

More in next week’s Budget Beat on the impact of the governor’s proposed budget on West Virginia’s working low- and middle-income families.

Race Matters Summit in Martinsburg

Over the next several months there will be many events which have spun off from last year’s Summit on Race Matters held in Charleston. Upcoming is a mini summit in Martinsburg on Wednesday, March 18 from noon to 4:00 PM. Please register by March 4 by emailing Michele Barnes.

Martinsburg invite

Budget Beat – February 20, 2015

Bill to Drug Test TANF Recipients Passes First Committee

The 2015 Legislative Session is now more than halfway over and there are several measures we are keeping an eye on that would impact West Virginia’s working families.

Yesterday the House held a public hearing on legislation that would require drug testing of Temporary Assistant to Needy Families (TANF) recipients.

No one spoke in favor of the bill but several testified against it, including WVCBP fiscal policy analyst Sean O’Leary. Read more in the Charleston Daily Mail and the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. Watch a recap of yesterday’s hearing here.

Sean’s blog post cites how ineffective and expensive such testing has been in other states. Many speakers also said the bill would be unconstitutional under the 4th Amendment.

Despite lack of support for it at the public hearing, the bill passed the House Health and Human Resources Committee yesterday and now makes it way to House Finance.

Paid Sick Days Bill Introduced

The Earned Sick Time Act was introduced today in the Senate. The bill would allow employees to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked. Currently over 260,000 West Virginians do not have access to a single paid sick day to take care of themselves or family members during illness.

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Senate Considering Two Dangerous Resolutions

Ohio Governor John Kasich visited West Virginia this week to ask lawmakers to pass a resolution calling for a constitutional convention to pass a balanced budget amendment.

Senate Concurring Resolution 13 would do just that. SCR 21, which passed out of the Senate Interstate Cooperation Committee this week, would impose federal fiscal restraints and call for term limits.

For much more on why these are bad ideas for our economy and our democratic process, read this blog post by Betty Rivard and Ted Boettner. There’s more in this AP article and in this week’s Daily Mail.

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Right to Work Legislation Introduced

Legislation to make West Virginia a Right to Work state has been introduced in both the House and Senate. The measure would effectively end collective bargaining in the state.

Here’s an excerpt from Ted’s op-ed on why Right to Work is not something West Virginia working families need:

The new Republican Legislature is looking to end free bargaining in West Virginia by adopting a so-called “right-to-work” (RTW) law that aims to cut wages and benefits for the state’s working families.

This is the last thing West Virginia needs. The state already has the highest share of low-wage jobs in the country and efforts to make this worse should be stopped.

The principle aim of RTW laws is to diminish the ability of workers to collectively bargain freely without the interference of government. This is precisely why Milton Friedman, the godfather of “free market economics,” adamantly opposed RTW laws.

Under RTW, it would be illegal for a union and a business to freely enter into a contract that requires every employee to pay for the benefits they are receiving under the agreement. This means that if a worker who does not pay a union representation fee is fired, the law requires that the union represent that worker through an appeals process. Non-dues paying workers would also receive other substantial benefits like workplace protections and higher wages and benefits.

Undoing Racism Workshop Accepting Applications – Deadline is February 27

An Undoing Racism Workshop will be held April 8-10, 2015 at the Pope John XXIII Pastoral Center, 100 Hodges Road, Charleston, WV. It is sponsored by American Friends Service Committee and led by: the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond.

Workshop Description: The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond focuses on understanding what racism is, where it comes from, how it functions, why it persists and how it can be undone. Our workshops utilize a systemic approach that emphasizes learning from history, developing leadership, maintaining accountability to communities, creating networks, undoing internalized racial oppression and understanding the role of organizational gate keeping as a mechanism for perpetuating racism.

Workshop registration information is available here. Applications are due February 27.

Questions? Please contact Lida Shepherd at (304) 356-8428 or Lshepherd@afsc.org.

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Budget Beat – February 13, 2015

West Virginia Next State to Drug Test Welfare Recipients?

A bill making its way through the West Virginia Senate would create a three-county pilot program to drug test recipients of cash assistance.

At its current projected costs, the drug testing program would cost over $600 per cash assistance recipient. To put that amount into perspective, the maximum monthly benefit amount for a family of three in West Virginia is only $340.

Read more about this costly proposal and the lackluster results it has had in other states in Sean’s blog post.

After Compromise Language Adopted, Senate Passes Prevailing Wage

Yesterday, the Senate passed its version of the prevailing wage bill. Arguably one of the most talked about pieces of legislation this session, the bill’s opponents were able to get it amended prior to passage. Construction projects costing less than $500,000 would be exempted from having to pay the prevailing wage. In addition, the responsibility of calculating the prevailing wage would be moved to Work Force West Virginia from the Department of Labor.

Here’s more in this week’s State Journal and from West Virginia Public News Service.

Growth in Economy Not Making it to People’s Wallets

While West Virginia’s economy is recovering from the Great Recession, its residents continue to struggle with stagnant wages. In fact, from 2008 to 2013, the median household income in West Virginia declined even as the economy grew:

Economy grown incomes fallen

ACA Enrollment Deadline is February 15

The deadline to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is just two days way on February 15. When the final numbers are in, it is expected that 35,000 West Virginians will have enrolled this year. Read more from the Charleston Gazette.

Undoing Racism Workshop Accepting Applications

An Undoing Racism Workshop will be held April 8-10, 2015 at the Pope John XXIII Pastoral Center, 100 Hodges Road, Charleston, WV. It is sponsored by American Friends Service Committee and led by: the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond.

Workshop Description: The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond focuses on understanding what racism is, where it comes from, how it functions, why it persists and how it can be undone. Our workshops utilize a systemic approach that emphasizes learning from history, developing leadership, maintaining accountability to communities, creating networks, undoing internalized racial oppression and understanding the role of organizational gate keeping as a mechanism for perpetuating racism.

Workshop registration information is available here. Applications are due February 27.

Questions? Please contact Lida Shepherd at (304) 356-8428 or Lshepherd@afsc.org

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Try This Conference Early Bird Special Ends Sunday

February 15 is the deadline for the discounted registration fee for this year’s Try This conference. Register here.

Be there for two idea-packed, inspiring days with like-minded people from all over the state. Trade ideas, join forces. Get inspired, learn, plan your next steps.
40 workshops packed with healthy community ideas and strategies.

Drug Testing Welfare Recipients – Wasteful and Unnecessary

West Virginia’s legislature is moving forward with a costly and ineffective bill targeted at only the poorest West Virginians. The bill, SB 348, would create a three-county pilot program to begin drug testing recipients of cash assistance (a.k.a. WV Works/ TANF). The costs of the drug screening would be deducted from the TANF recipients’ monthly check – which averaged about $340 per month for a family of three in 2013 – and would be reimbursed if found negative. The latest report from DHHR shows that in May 2014 there were only 4,065 adults on cash assistance, including 4,918 children. 

While the purpose of the bill would seem to be to discourage substance abuse and save the state money, evidence from other states shows such programs fail to achieve either goal.

While 12 states have some sort of drug testing program, an analysis from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that no proposed or current policy has saved any state dollars. Instead, the programs are very expensive to implement and run, with some costing millions of dollars.

The fiscal note for West Virginia’s proposed bill shows costs of $2.5 million in the first year, and $1.8 million in ongoing costs, which included the costs of the actual drug testing and the mandated substance abuse treatment for those who fail the test. And that is just for a three-county pilot project, with those counties representing roughly 1/3 of all cash assistance recipients in the state. If the pilot were to be expanded statewide, total costs could approach $6 million per year. 

In 2013, West Virginia spent approximately $29 million on TANF basic assistance. That means that the costs of a statewide drug testing program would be approximately 1/5 of what we currently spend in total on basic cash assistance.

At its current projected costs, the drug testing program would cost over $600 per cash assistance recipient. To put that amount into perspective, the maximum monthly benefit amount for a family of three in West Virginia is only $340.

There is also no evidence that such programs help curb substance abuse, largely because there is no evidence of widespread drug use among cash assistance recipients. Which is why policies in other states have overwhelmingly failed to find any significant number of substance abusers among their recipients of cash assistance. For example:

  • In the first six months of Indiana’s drug testing program for its workforce training program, only 13 of 1,240 failed the test, or 1.0% of applicants.
  • In two years, Arizona’s drug testing program identified “reasonable suspicion” for only 16 out of 64,000 applicants, or 0.25%. After three years, only 1 applicant had failed a drug test.
  • Before it was stopped, Florida’s drug testing program had only 108 out of 4,086 applicants fail its drug test, or 2.6%.
  • In Missouri, only 636 out of 32,000 applicants were suspected of drug use, and only 20 failed a drug test, 0.0625% of all applicants.
  • In Utah, 394 out of 4,425 applicants were suspected of drug use, and only 9 tested positive, 0.2% of all applicants.
  • In Oklahoma, 340 out of 1,300 applicants were screened for drug testing, with only 29 testing positive, 2.2% of all applicants.
  • In Tennessee, only 37 of 16,017 applicants for cash assistance tested positive, or 0.23% of all applicants.

The drug testing of welfare recipients is also on shaky constitutional ground. In 2003, a federal court ruled that Michigan’s law requiring drug testing of welfare recipients to be an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment. More recently, Florida’s drug testing law was also found to be unconstitutional, again violating the Fourth Amendment’s protection against government searches.

While West Virginia’s proposed law, which allows for a drug test under “reasonable suspicion”, is less stringent than Florida’s blanket testing, it is still of questionable constitutionality.  A drug test is considered a “search” under the Fourth Amendment, and searched are typically only allowed “pursuant to a judicial warrant issued under probable cause.” While there are exceptions for public safety and the protection of children in public schools, these exceptions don’t seem likely to apply. In addition, some of what is considered “reasonable suspicion” in West Virginia’s proposed law, such as missed appointments, don’t have a connection to drug use.

West Virginia does have a substance abuse problem, and we all want to find a solution to it. But expensive and unnecessary policies that are based more on stereotype and punishing the poor than on facts and evidence are not the way to solve it.

Budget Beat – February 6, 2015

State Senate Poised to Pass Prevailing Wage

On Tuesday, the Senate Government Organization Committee passed out SB 361, legislation to repeal the state’s prevailing wage. The single-referenced bill is now in the hands of the full Senate where it was read for a first time today.

In follow-up to our report released last week, “West Virginia’s Prevailing Wage: Good for Business, Good for Workers,” here is Sean’s op-ed, appearing in both the Charleston Daily Mail and the Huntington Herald-Dispatch today, which states the case why it’s important to continue to provide a prevailing wage for hard-working West Virginia laborers.

Here’s more coverage of the issue from the Charleston Daily Mail and West Virginia Public News Service. Go here to watch Sean’s interview with Ashton Marra on West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Legislature Today.

Here’s next week’s budget hearings (in respective Finance Committee rooms):

2/9/2015
2:00 PM – Public Service Commission (House)
3:00 PM – Higher Education Policy Commission (Senate)
3:00 PM – Supreme Court (House)
4:00 PM – Community and Technical Colleges (Senate)

2/10/2015
3:00 PM – Consumer Advocate Division (Senate)
3:45 PM – Public Service Commission (Senate)

2/11/2015
9:00 AM – Higher Education Policy Commission (House)
10:00 AM – Community and Technical Colleges (House)

President’s Budget Provides Assistance to West Virginia Communities

This week President Obama released his budget for FY 2016 which starts on October 1. Of particular note to Appalachia, hard hit by the decline in coal production, is the president’s Power Plus Plan which would “invest in workers and jobs, address important ‘legacy costs’ in coal communities, and drive development of new technologies,” as reported in this week’s Charleston Gazette.

From the Gazette article: “The president’s plan offers an incredible opportunity to take meaningful action to help regenerate coalfield areas where coal will inevitably decline,” said Ted Boettner, WVCBP Executive Director.

Here is an overview of the plan directly from the president’s proposed budget.

Free Black History Event This Monday

West Virginia State University will kick off Black History month on Monday, February 9 with a very special event, “A Conversation with Pamela J. Meanes.”

Attorney Meanes is the current President of the National Bar Association and a vocal advocate for federal investigations into police violence against minorities across the country.

Please plan to attend at 6:30PM at the Wilson Student Union, West Virginia State University.

Pamela Meanes

The First 1,000 Days

If you haven’t had a chance to watch “The First 1,000 Days: Investing in WV Children When it Counts” it is available here including extra clips from many of our coalition partners. Check out this important film!

first 1000 days

Educating Our Children Good for the Economy

As it turns out, providing a quality education for our children does more than just prepare them for the future, it also improves our nation’s economy. A new study looks at what the educational gap between low-income and wealthy children means in terms of lost revenue and economic growth. Read more here.