According the 2013 American Community Survey, one in three children in West Virginia under the age of 5 lives in poverty. It’s something the Our Children, Our Future Campaign to End Child Poverty in West Virginia is focused on. The group met at the state capitol yesterday to reveal the top ten priorities it will tackle during the 2015 Legislative Session.
There was an air of confidence from each presenter at the Our Children, Our Future Campaign’s announcement, as high expectations were expressed for continual support from lawmakers during the 2015 Legislative Session.
The top ten priorities of the campaign were revealed, and of those top ten, the top five were spoken about at length. The biggest focus was on funding for family support programs and early childhood services.
Shane Brown is a father from Doddridge County and a member of the Doddridge County Starting Points Center. He stood holding his young daughter in front of supporters and media to express how imperative it is to fund family and children’s programs in the state.
“West Virginia as a whole needs this," said Brown, "Our communities need this, you know. I know probably a lot of you have kids here. What would you do if you didn’t have a resource to go too? If you didn’t have some[one] say, hey, you know, we have something that could help you, we got your back. And I don’t know about everyone else, but I like having my back…someone having my back don’t you?”
According to policy analysts at the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, investing in early childhood development programs is likely to have major payoffs in terms of decreasing rates of incarceration, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, and other symptoms of poverty that are pervasive throughout the state.
This past May, the Our Children, Our Future Campaign was able to bring both Democrats and Republicans almost unanimously together and agree to restore funds to family and child service programs which had been cut from the state budget by Governor Tomblin. This year, the Our Children, Our Future Campaign hopes that support will continue.
Jim McKay is the State Director of Prevent Child Abuse West Virginia.
“We worked across the aisle. We worked with Republican leaders, Democratic leaders, we worked with the Governor’s office as best we could to try to find any solution possible," said McKay, "and we were very pleased to have just grassroots support that the Our Children, Our Future Campaign was able to mobilize from all across the state who kept coming to the capitol, kept meeting with lawmakers, and we were pleased to have Republican support, Democrat support, and ultimately the support of the Governor in affirming the importance of these programs."
McKay says the campaign was able to access some limited revenues from the lottery proceeds and sustain the programs at the previous levels. He says this saved over 50 jobs and services to thousands of West Virginians.
McKay hopes support from lawmakers will continue in 2015.
“We hope the Governor will propose a budget that preserves that funding," McKay said, "We know that there are declining state revenues and access to the state’s Rainy Day Fund is a concern, but we hope the Governor will continue the agreement that was made last year and we want to just fortify that.”
The other top five issues presented were Juvenile Justice Reform, Drinking Water Protection, and expanding Medicaid Access to Mental Health Therapy.