Ted Boettner and Jim McKay: Restore All Funding to Family Programs
Sunday Gazette-Mail - Last week, Gov. Tomblin said he was restoring $260,000 in funding for critical programs serving children and families, funding that he had previously vetoed. This included $30,000 for domestic violence legal services, $80,000 for child abuse prevention from the Children’s Trust Fund, and $150,000 for In-Home Family Education. Read
While this is certainly a move in the right direction, it was incredibly disappointing to learn that Gov. Tomblin is taking money from the very programs he is restoring. To restore the cuts he made to In-Home Family Education and child abuse prevention, Tomblin is taking $230,000 from the Children’s Trust Fund — which is a special revenue account used to fund child abuse prevention. In another disturbing move, the governor is using $30,000 from the Domestic Violence Legal Fund to restore $30,000 in cuts to domestic violence legal services.
Withdrawing funds from one account that is being cut to offset cuts in another account isn’t a long-term solution. By depleting these accounts, it will make it much harder to fund these vital and effective programs in the future.
The restoration of these cuts also falls far short of restoring the $1 million in cuts to these family programs and services that he vetoed in March. The budget cuts that were not restored by the governor include about $358,000 in licensed domestic violence programs and grants, $200,000 for Child Advocacy Centers, $150,000 for Family Resource Networks and Starting Points Family Resource Centers, and $100,000 for In-Home Family Education.
Many of these programs have seen cuts in prior years or have not had any funding increases for years. Meanwhile, the costs of services and the increase in the number of families needing assistance has continued to rise, making it impossible to serve as many families and children.
The governor claims that his vetoes were necessary to balance the state’s budget and protect our state’s credit rating. Yet, he did not apply the same scrutiny to more than $12 million in increased funds for other line items that the Legislature passed and he did NOT veto. Among the budget increases that he approved were $500,000 for tourism, $551,000 for “Unclassified” expenses within the Division of Corrections, $500,000 for the Division of Human Services for “Personal Services and Employee Benefits”, $350,000 for the Division of Educational Performance for “Personal Services.” These are budget increases that the governor approved while slashing existing funds for victims of domestic violence and programs that protect children from abuse and neglect.
If the state can afford to increase our tourism budget and other line items, then surely the credit rating agencies will not object if West Virginia restores $1 million in funding for child abuse prevention and domestic violence programs. If the governor needs a permanent source of revenue, he could direct the State Tax Department to apply the sales tax to digital downloads of books and other online goods. This could bring in several million in revenue each year and help small in-state businesses.
By not putting back all of the funds for these family programs, hundreds of children and mothers will lose important assistance and services and dozens of workers will lose their jobs. The long-term effects could be much worse, as more kids end up in the criminal justice system and more parents find it harder to stay employed.
These budget cuts are penny-wise, pound-foolish. As Delegate Nancy Guthrie recently pointed out, they amount to a rounding error in the state’s $4.4 billion state budget.
Cutting $1 million from these programs also puts millions of federal and private dollars at risk and could result in taxpayers having to spend more on pubic welfare, health care, foster care services, and special education, to name a few.
For example, investments in In-Home Family Education programs not only increase high school graduation and literacy scores, they also lead to positive birth outcomes and decreases in rates of abuse and neglect. That’s why economists have found that over time home visiting programs return up to $5.70 per $1 dollar invested.
A lack of resources to combat domestic violence can also cost our families, communities, and businesses — including lost workdays, increases in health care and criminal justice expenditures, and lower productivity and lifetime earnings. Children can also suffer from birth defects, as well as child abuse and neglect.
Child Advocacy Centers also save the state money by helping local professionals investigate, prosecute, and treat children who have suffered from abuse. In 2013, Child Advocacy Centers saw 2,663 children, resulting in a direct cost savings of $2.6 million to Child Protective Services and law enforcement.
Because these programs are an efficient and a sound investment, they have received strong support from law enforcement officials like U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and conservative lawmakers in the state.
Republican Delegate Amanda Pasdon from Monongalia County recently said: “Republicans have been strong advocates of these programs for years, and we want to recognize the values that these programs represent: family unity, self-reliance, and fiscal responsibility.”
The good news is that it is not too late. All that has to happen is for Gov. Tomblin to include a supplemental appropriation in his call for a special session that will likely be on May 19. Quoting Frederick Douglass last week at a press conference on these cuts, U.S. District Attorney Booth Goodwin was right when he said “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Ted Boettner is the executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, and Jim McKay is state coordinator for Prevent Child Abuse West Virginia.