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Lawmakers Watching State Child-Care Budget

May 14, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Funding for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources will fall next year. Some lawmakers and children's advocates are afraid that will mean cuts to a program that helps low-income working families pay for child care.

Boone County State Sen. Ron Stollings, chair of the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee, says he has heard that DHHR is considering cutting child-care benefits or tightening eligibility. He says both would be a mistake. Stollings and the chair of the House health committee are planning to meet with the DHHR secretary and ask about the program, he says.

"I don't know if those types of children's programs are where we should be looking to cut. Frankly and personally, I think that's money well spent. You get a return on investment when you invest in children."

DHHR's budget is being cut because of a planned reduction in federal support to Medicaid. According to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, that situation is made tougher by a past reduction in state taxes on corporations.

However, according to Margie Hale, executive director of West Virginia Kids Count, research consistently shows the value of early child care. She says it pays off at seven-to-one by improving the lives of kids, long-term.

"They're less likely to drop out of school, less likely to get pregnant, less likely to get in trouble with the law, more likely to be somebody who is contributing to the community."

Hale says the child-care program should be defended because it helps people stay in the work force and because it has such powerful results over time.

"It just is a no-brainer. But it doesn't happen overnight, so there has to be sustained commitment."

No one from the agency returned a call requesting comment.

During the interim legislative meetings, Stollings says, lawmakers will be looking in detail for better ways to reduce spending. He says the state should be able to find more savings in the way it pays for its medical care programs.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV