Emily Rice Published

DoHS Promises Transparency In Spending New Reserve Fund

A large pile of banknotes, cash2bgr8/Deviantart

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and both chambers made one thing clear this special West Virginia Legislative session: they do not trust the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services to spend money.

Following a special session focused largely on funding her department, West Virginia Department of Human Services (DoHS) Cabinet Secretary Cynthia Persily released a statement promising transparency Tuesday.

“Today’s restoration of more than $183 million in funds will allow DoHS to continue to provide essential services through its Bureau for Child Support Enforcement, Bureau for Behavioral Health, Bureau for Family Assistance, Bureau for Medical Services, Bureau for Social Services, and the Office of Drug Control Policy,” Persily said.

Instead of restoring the budget line items cut from the state budget passed on the last night of session, Senate Bill 1001 appropriates money to a new reserve fund of $183 million. The bill also makes $5 million available to the Department of Health. Lawmakers hope the cabinet secretaries of the departments will spend on underfunded line items

The secretaries have the ability to move only 5 percent of any money from one existing account to another. The reserve fund is new and it will expire March 31, 2025. It is not encumbered, so the cabinet secretaries are not required to spend the money on specific items.

The House and Senate could not agree on how the money should be allocated and how much transparency and accountability should be attached to the funds. 

Del. Amy Summers, R-Taylor, amended the bill in the House Finance Committee to require increasing reimbursement rates for companies and their employees providing services for people with disabilities.

The House sent that version over to the Senate, where Summers’ amendment was stripped and the Senate reverted to their plans – Sen. Eric Tarr’s, R-Putnam, original amendment

“That reserve fund is there so that the quarterly disbursements, if they aren’t enough for any given line that has been cut, they can make a transfer, but the secretary has to sign off on it,” Tarr told West Virginia Public Broadcasting. “She has to report on the transfers monthly to the joint committee.”

Tarr’s amendment also includes language that requires the unexpended reserve funds be returned to the Treasury by March 31, 2025.

House language to prohibit any funds from being transferred out of the home and community-based waiver programs was retained in this version. 

When the bill arrived back in the House, delegates from both sides of the aisle expressed outrage at the Senate’s actions. They refused to concur and sent the bill back to the Senate.

The Senate then adjourned sine die. By taking no action, the Senate left the House to jump through hoops to get Senate Bill 1001 back on the floor and up for consideration.

Procedurally, the House had to move backward in order to take the bill back up. They had to vote to undo their Monday night actions, then vote to concur with the Senate, lest the bill die and the funding be left incomplete.

The House did just that and passed the bill, as amended by the Senate, with a nearly unanimous vote. The bill now awaits Gov. Jim Justice’s signature.

In her statement, Persily said she plans to use more than $89 million to remedy the anticipated Medicaid shortfall for Fiscal Year 2025.

Persily also said she heard the legislator’s concerns about the need for transparency and that the DoHS is committed to providing it while continuing to analyze reimbursement rates for all providers of services.

“As appropriate and feasible, DoHS will continue to make adjustments to rates as necessary for providers as early as July,” she said. “The department appreciates the work of the legislature and thanks each member for their time and attention to the crucial needs of West Virginia’s most vulnerable residents.”

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Marshall Health.