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Child Advocates' Agenda Includes Protecting Promise, Changing Benefits Rules

New mother Sarah Starks says the Promise Scholarship kept her in the state and shouldn't be cut. (Dan Heyman)
New mother Sarah Starks says the Promise Scholarship kept her in the state and shouldn't be cut. (Dan Heyman)
February 2, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The children's advocacy group Our Children Our Future is releasing its annual legislative priority list.

Some items focus on programs at risk in the state's budget crisis.

Lawmakers are facing a shortfall of more than $500 billion for next year. And the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy projects closing it with cuts that would require lopping $50 million from the Promise Scholarship programs.

But new mother Sarah Starks says without Promise, she would have had to leave the state and go into debt to get her degree.

Holding her baby, she says Promise is working as intended to keep smart college students in West Virginia.

"Promise Scholarship is a great opportunity for young people in West Virginia,” she states. “I think a lot of people would leave the state if it wasn't for Promise Scholarship.

“I think a lot of people wouldn't go to college if it wasn't for the Promise Scholarship. It's really important for young people and for children as they get older."

Other items on the Our Children, Our Future platform this year include a state Earned Income Tax Credit, agriculture jobs for veterans and a way for former felons to clear their employment record.

One item that might have broad appeal at the Legislature concerns how the state treats safety-net benefits when a couple gets married.

Rev. Steve Willis, lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Kenova, says half a dozen young couples have told him they want to get married, but can't afford to legally because one of them is a single parent who would lose benefits.

He cites the example of a household with two children who would go from no-deductible Medicaid to their stepfather's high-deductible insurance.

"It's an immediate $5,000 to $10,000 pay cut the moment they say 'I do,'” he points out. “I just can't believe that we should design a system that would punish them for actually legally getting married and him making a commitment to her two children from a previous marriage."

Our Children, Our Future surveyed 3,000 state residents before setting its legislative priorities. The organization has an impressive and bipartisan record for getting things done.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV