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Gov.: Human services funding a ‘dog’s mess’

Gov. Jim Justice signed a budget passed on the final night of the regular legislative session — but he wants to call lawmakers back to fill gaps in healthcare and human services allocations.

“I will absolutely call our legislators back into special session, and I will call them back possibly very soon,” Justice said at a briefing this week.

He cited the need to pass childcare legislation, which went nowhere during the 60 days that lawmakers just gathered. And the governor contended a $4.96 billion general revenue budget passed by the legislature cut health services allocations short.

The governor’s proposed budget was $5.22 billion.

“You know what a mess we’re going to be in in DHS,” Justice said, referring to Department of Human Services.

As the budget passed during the final night of the session, delegates asked about millions of dollars that they had anticipated would be there to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, sometimes referred to by the acronym IDD.

Justice echoed that concern Thursday.

“We have hundreds of thousands of people in West Virginia that are going to be affected — can you imagine? Can you imagine the good work that we did and now we could possibly hurt those folks,” Justice said, going on to list additional programs meant to support the state’s vulnerable population.

“Why did we do it? Why in the world did we do it?” Justice asked, expressing concern about federal matching dollars.

“Now what we’ve done is — we’ll say let’s just cut $100 million out of this or whatever like that — and what that does is, just think of the federal monies, the federal monies that would be flowing into our state with the matching of that $100 million vs. hundreds of hundreds of millions on the fed side.”

Justice continued, “When we call ‘em back this will be front and center. And to be perfectly honest we’re not going to be able probably to wait because this is going to take time, time to figure this out. We’re not going to be able to wait until after the elections because this will take time to straighten out from the folks in our revenue department.”

As delegates considered the state budget in the final hours of the legislative session, several questioned why spending on human services items seemed low.

Delegate Michael Hite, R-Berkeley, brought up the funding to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He specified an $11 million cut that would have gone to help adults with disabilities and $11 million more to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“We often talk in here about the most vulnerable in our society. Well, I don’t know any category more vulnerable than IDD or ADW,” he said. “There’s a reason they’re on the waiver line items. They’re in crisis right now and have been in crisis. Human services has testified several times that they’re in crisis,” Hite said that night on the House floor. “

“You can’t get direct care workers in this field any more. You can’t get people to take care of these individuals anymore. We’re doing pay raises for certain individuals, and we get that done — but this we can’t get done. Not only can we not get it done, but we cut it. This is unacceptable. I don’t care if it came from the House, the Senate or the governor, this is unacceptable.”

Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson referred to those concerns and asked if lawmakers might address the funding again this spring.

He asked House Finance Chairman Vernon Criss, “Is it your expectation on that we’ll be able to revisit some areas of the budget and perhaps restore some of the reductions that were necessary in order to get this budget passed?”

Yes, responded Criss, R-Wood.

“If I have the latitude to recommend to the governor to take a look at some of these items, I would say yes,” Criss said.

Justice this week referred to “a dog’s mess” in the state’s human services and said a fix might need to come earlier than anticipated. The regular session just ended March 9.

“This is going to be complicated to implement. It’s going to be complicated to figure out,” the governor said. “We have absolutely got to fix this. And for us to wait way up in May, if we don’t watch out we’re going to be on deadline in July and then we’re going to be in a real mess.

“So with all that being said, there’s a really good chance we’re going to have to call them back in and call them back in in April.”