CHARLESTON, WV (WOAY) – Democrats in the West Virginia House of Delegates and State Senate challenged their Republican colleagues to work with them to help improve the lives of state children. Democrats believe that West Virginia needs to prioritize children who are coping with poverty, drug abuse, parental separation and neglect; all considered Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
“West Virginia children are in crisis with twenty five percent living in poverty, 10,522 students are homeless, 6,500 children are in foster or kinship care, and we have the highest rate in the nation of babies born dependent on drugs,” said Senator Stephen Baldwin, (D-Greenbrier). “Our kids come first to West Virginians, as parents, grandparents, as legislators, those are our values; unfortunately vulnerable children are not the first priority in Charleston.”
Democrats charge that Republican leaders in the West Virginia Legislature are prioritizing corporations first, citing a proposed $100 million dollar tax cut for manufacturing machinery contained in Senate Joint Resolution 8. Republicans have long pushed for an intermediate court system, which is estimated to cost $7 million dollars per year. The Legislature also gave a $60 million dollar tax cut in 2019 to one coal producer, who declared bankruptcy soon after.
“More children have been placed in foster care in West Virginia than any other state in the nation, per capita,” said Delegate Amanda Estep-Burton, (D-Kanawha). “There are more than 6,500 children living in foster or kinship homes, a staggering rise of 67 percent since 2013, which also has taxed our dedicated and vastly underpaid DHHR employees.”
West Virginia Democrats are supporting a bipartisan effort, House Bill 4092, which creates a bill of rights for foster children. Rights includes adequate food, medical care, clothing and a travel bag, and a chance to participate in community activities important to childhood development. The bill of rights extends to foster and kinship families, who, under the Democrat’s plan, would receive equalized monetary support for children in their care. It also would increase access to attorneys, mental health professionals and support networks.
“Due to the drug crisis, one of the highest poverty rates in the country, and a contracting economy in our southern coalfields, our children are suffering tremendous stress from Adverse Childhood Experiences,” said Delegate Lisa Zukoff, (D-Marshall). “Screening for ACEs and through the Trauma Informed Elementary School (TIES) program, to be created with bipartisan support and bills in both the House of Delegates and State Senate, would allow children to receive intervention services to help them better cope.”
Democrats said that to reduce ACEs and put our children first, the West Virginia Legislature needs to increase economic security for vulnerable children and families. More than 400,000 West Virginians would qualify for a state-level earned income tax credit. Paid family leave would ensure no West Virginian has to choose between caring for a family member and working to support their family.