Our new fact sheet highlights how SNAP restrictions harm vulnerable populations that face barriers to work, negatively impact retailers, and increase demand on the state’s charitable food sector.
Read the full fact sheet here. Excerpt below:
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) is the most powerful anti-hunger tool in the United States. It is highly responsive to economic downturns, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, where unemployment peaked at over 15 percent in West Virginia. SNAP already contains work reporting requirements and robust fraud protection measures and has among the lowest fraud rates of any federal program. Despite all the robust protection measures already in place, state lawmakers have regularly introduced legislation to further limit the program through additional bureaucratic red tape or increasingly complex eligibility requirements, which often have significant unintended consequences for families, retailers, the charitable food sector, and the broader economy.
In recent months, the state has lost significant federal SNAP dollars due to the reinstatement of pre-pandemic policies. SNAP provided emergency allotments to enrollees throughout the pandemic to maintain access to food amid rising food costs and economic uncertainty. In West Virginia, individuals received an additional $100 on average. Families and charitable food providers felt the impact when the allotments ended in March 2023, taking roughly $32 million monthly out of the state economy.
Additionally, in October 2023, pre-pandemic time limits for so-called “able-bodied adults without dependents” (often referred to as ABAWDs) went back into effect. Since that provision was rolled out, approximately 12,000 West Virginians have lost their federal SNAP benefits, resulting in over $2 million in lost food assistance each month.
Combined, the state’s food economy has $34 million less circulating through it monthly than it did just a year ago.
The WVCBP hosted our first annual Budget and Bites Happy Hour last week, where we spent a wonderful evening surrounded by our colleagues and supporters invested in building a more equitable West Virginia where all can thrive. As part of the event, senior policy analyst Sean O’Leary presented his brief, initial analysis of Governor Jim Justice’s proposed FY 2025 budget.
We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to all who joined us. If you weren’t able to make it to this year’s event, you can view the PowerPoint slides from Sean’s presentation here.
We hope to see you all next year at our second annual Budget and Bites!
At the start of the 2024 legislative session, there is a rare moment of consensus. People behind bars, their loved ones, the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR), and lawmakers are all in agreement: West Virginia must address and reduce jail overcrowding.
The good news is that lawmakers need not look far for a solution. They already passed one four years ago.
First, some history. For years, West Virginia jails have housed more people than they were designed to. In the last decade, state jails were the deadliest in the country. Then in 2019, the former DCR commissioner told lawmakers that the state’s 10 regional jails were “bursting at the seams.”
A few months later, lawmakers responded. In March 2020, they passed House Bill 2419 aimed at reducing the number of people in West Virginia jails.
The law created a presumption against money bond for certain misdemeanor offenses. It told magistrates and judges to consider the least restrictive bond conditions. The law encouraged the use of non-financial conditions of bond – for example, a requirement that a person enroll in substance use disorder treatment.
But the most important thing HB 2419 did was require that in cases where a person is unable to post bond within three days of their arrest, the court would hold a bond review hearing.
That bond review hearing would address a fundamental flaw: West Virginians were having their bonds decided without a lawyer present.
When a person is arrested, they are typically brought before a magistrate who explains their charges and sets a bond. West Virginia law requires magistrates to consider several factors, including a person’s criminal history, their ties to the community, and whether they can afford a money bond. These are legal factors that the average lawyer–let alone, a disoriented and stressed non-lawyer–would not know to argue. And yet, at this critical moment for an accused person, they stand alone and unrepresented.
HB 2419 offered the first chance for a court to hear from a prosecutor and a defense attorney about complex factors in play.
Unfortunately, many magistrates chose not to implement the law for felony cases, which are criminal charges that carry a possible penalty of one year or more of incarceration. They simply ignored the law.
But to reduce the pretrial jail population, felony cases are critical. As HB 2419 went into effect in June 2020, people facing misdemeanor charges represented only 7.6 percent of people in jails.
By the following legislative session, magistrates had exerted enough pressure that lawmakers passed HB 3106, which eliminated felonies from bond review hearings and extended the three day period to five days.
This was a policy failure.
At the beginning of this year, 52.6 percent of the jail population were legally innocent and awaiting trial. Of that group, 82.0 percent were being held on a felony charge. Three years after the promise of HB 2419, seven out of ten regional jails had more people than DCR had room to house.
This overcrowding is disconnected from crime incidents. Between 2011 and 2021, violent crime incidents decreased by 27.1 percent, while property crime incidents decreased by 50.4 percent.
At least 86 people have died in a regional jail since HB 2419 passed. Seventy-three percent were awaiting trial.
West Virginia must stop turning to the DCR for a false promise of public safety. Reinstating HB 2419 reduces the number of people we send into their custody.
Lawmakers may once again meet resistance from judges and prosecutors who claim that these hearings will require too much of their time.
Last month, we learned that a state commission has recommended pay raises for judges and magistrates. Under the proposed pay increases, circuit court judges would be paid $155,232 per year and magistrates would be paid $75,840 per year. Compare that to the $55,217 that the median state household earns each year.
Judges and magistrates are key to solving our jail overcrowding crisis and must take up the important work given to them in HB 2419 as a condition of any pay raise.
Read Sara’s full blog post.
Three days before Christmas, a 24-year-old man died at the Southern Regional Jail in Raleigh County. He was one of at least 27 people who died at that one facility over the past three years.
This could be a moment for action — a chance to finally address West Virginia’s over-reliance on incarceration at some of the deadliest facilities in the country. Just don’t expect that action to come from the executive branch. The governor and his appointees have shown they are more likely to cover up a problem than solve it.
In April 2022, the governor assured the public that all was well inside Southern Regional Jail. We now know that, two weeks before, a state agency had completed an investigation that catalogued serious, life-threatening problems in that facility.
In December 2023, Mark Sorsaia, the Homeland Security secretary who oversees corrections, told lawmakers that overcrowding and other jail problems “do not exist today.” We now know that, a week before Sorsaia made this statement, West Virginia jails had hundreds of people assigned to sleep on the floor.
The people at the top are either actively hiding or are willfully ignorant of the conditions inside our jail system. That makes it harder for the rest of us to keep track of the litany of failures and tragedies inside West Virginia jails.
Here is a summary of what we do know, largely thanks to lawsuits and investigative reporting:
In the 21 months between the governor and Mr. Sorsaia’s attempts to convince the public that the jails are just fine, at least 13 people died at the Southern Regional Jail. During that time, 19 hearings were conducted by the legislative and interim committees tasked with oversight.
No incarcerated person or loved ones were called to testify about jail conditions. Only once did they hear from formerly incarcerated people, two summers ago.
Instead, the committees largely heard from people who worked around — or atop — the criminal legal system.
Out of 35 total appearances before the committees, 15 spots were given to men in charge of corrections. The most frequent witness was Brad Douglas, a former DCR chief of staff who was fired after a federal judge found that DCR staff had intentionally destroyed evidence related to a lawsuit against the agency. Douglas made at least six appearances between April 2022 and April 2023.
Our elected representatives must start listening to those being harmed by this deadly system.
A new legislative session is underway. Lawmakers can make use of video conferencing equipment installed in every jail to invite incarcerated people to testify about jail conditions. They can invite their parents, spouses and children to share the challenges they face keeping their loved ones healthy and safe behind bars.
Here’s what they will hear incarcerated people need: better and more accessible medical care; transparency when an incarcerated person dies; compassionate release policies for people who are elderly or seriously ill; and sentencing reform that puts fewer people behind bars.
A colleague who recently passed away frequently reminded us, “Those who are closest to the problem are the ones who have the answers.”
This state desperately needs answers to the years-long crisis in our jails. Let’s hope our lawmakers will start listening to the people who have them.
Read Sara’s op-ed here.
During his State of the State address last week, Governor Justice outlined three new tax cut proposals he encouraged the West Virginia Legislature to pass this year, all of which would divert money away from funding the state’s many pressing needs. A recent article, including insight from WVCBP executive director Kelly Allen, provides further details. Excerpt below:
Following on the heels of a big personal income tax cut, Gov. Jim Justice has proposed three more tax breaks.
West Virginia lawmakers will now need to make a calculation about whether the state can afford to embrace the proposals. The state’s 21.25 personal property tax cut is still taking effect, and a trigger to cut the tax even more is possible in the coming months.
The governor’s new proposals, outlined in his State of the State address, include changes to the state’s income tax on Social Security benefits, a credit for child and dependent care, and a senior citizen property tax credit.
The administration estimated the three tax breaks combined add up to about $50 million.
Each of these proposals, if passed, would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2024.
Social Security Exemption
A 2019 bill signed into law by the governor featured a three-year phase-in to exempt Social Security income from personal income taxes for most West Virginians, particularly those in lower tax brackets.
This proposal would exempt those in higher brackets from being taxed on Social Security benefits. The bill was introduced in the House of Delegates as HB 4880.
The Justice administration says 50,000 senior households would be affected.
Child and Dependent Care Credit
The Justice administration proposes a credit equal to 50 percent of the allowable federal child and dependent care credit. This was introduced in the House of Delegates as HB 4879.
The administration says 16,000 West Virginia families could be eligible.
Senior Citizen Property Tax Credit
This would be for seniors with homestead property taxes and federal adjusted gross income below 200% of the federal poverty guideline.
The proposal would increase the maximum credit amount by 50%. It also would expand eligibility by 50% of the federal poverty guideline.
These proposed tax breaks represent priorities that would naturally result in trade offs for state government, said Kelly Allen, executive director of the progressive West Virginia Center for Budget & Policy.
“Every dollar diverted to tax cuts is one we cannot use to pay for Republican-led priorities like supporting our first responders, investing in our underfunded public schools, and giving home health workers a raise after more than a decade,” Allen said.
“And to even consider additional tax cuts before we’ve had the chance to see the full budgetary impacts of last year’s changes on programs that serve seniors and families would be fiscally irresponsible, likely setting up the next governor and legislature for very difficult decisions.”
Read the full article.
The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy (WVCBP), an independent research and advocacy organization working to advance public policies that increase opportunity and eliminate inequities for children and families, announces that it will be serving as the KIDS COUNT® partner for the state of West Virginia in 2024 and beyond.
As a new KIDS COUNT partner organization, the WVCBP will grow our capacity to make a difference for West Virginia’s children by tracking data and serving as a resource on the key indicators of child well-being. KIDS COUNT is a platform of the Annie E. Casey Foundation that provides legislators, public officials, and child advocates with reliable data, policy recommendations, and tools to advance policies that benefit children and youth. Each state—as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands—is represented by a KIDS COUNT grantee that operates independently from the Casey Foundation.
The WVCBP prides itself on being a trusted source of data related to children, youth, and families in the Mountain State and we are honored to continue this work through our expansion into the role of KIDS COUNT partner for West Virginia. Among other new responsibilities, the WVCBP will now provide data to inform the West Virginia section of the KIDS COUNT Data Center, which includes insightful information pertaining to demographics, economic well-being, child welfare, education, and more.
“Robust, reliable data combined with community-rooted advocacy drive positive policy change for children and families. The WVCBP is honored to carry on the KIDS COUNT work in West Virginia and to be part of this critically important national network,” said Kelly Allen, WVCBP executive director. “We invite lawmakers, public officials, and child advocates to reach out to us with data requests and suggestions on what policy issues they would like to see us prioritize in the year ahead.”
The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Baltimore-based national philanthropy, creates a brighter future for the nation’s young people by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity, and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work, and grow. For more information, visit www.aecf.org.
The WVCBP is hiring a state policy fellow!
The position is a two-year research-focused fellowship dedicated to making change through careful research, thoughtful advocacy, and strong partnerships.
The fellowship is a project of the State Priorities Partnership, a national network coordinated by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, one of the nation’s premier policy institutes. As part of this exciting project, you’ll be a member of a cohort of policy fellows working in states across the country. Fellows will receive training and career development, work with mentors, and have access to ongoing opportunities for professional growth.
Applications are due February 29, 2024.
Learn more and apply here.
The third annual West Virginia Black Policy Day, hosted by Black by God The West Virginian and the West Virginia Black Voter Impact Initiative, is scheduled for February 7, 2024. In addition, the event organizers are offering a series of educational webinars leading up to the event.
October’s webinar provided valuable insights about Legislative Interims and Black infant and maternal health policies, November’s webinar gave a preview of the 2024 Black Policy Agenda, and December’s webinar detailed how Black Policy Day continues the legacies of African American organizations working in the pursuit of change, and January’s webinar explored how people can use their personal stories to advocate for public policy.
You can learn more about Black Policy Day and purchase your ticket for the event here.
You can register for next month’s webinar (taking place on February 3 at 10am) here.
The WVCBP’s Elevating the Medicaid Enrollment Experience (EMEE) Voices Project seeks to collect stories from West Virginians who have struggled to access Medicaid across the state. Being conducted in partnership with West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, EMEE Voices will gather insight to inform which Medicaid barriers are most pertinent to West Virginians, specifically people of color.
Do you have a Medicaid experience to share? We’d appreciate your insight. Just fill out the contact form on this webpage and we’ll reach out to you soon. We look forward to learning from you!
You can watch WVCBP’s health policy analyst Rhonda Rogombé and West Virginians for Affordable Health Care’s Mariah Plante further break down the project and its goals in this FB Live.