Emily Rice Published

Officials Report ‘Positive Momentum’ In Restructuring

A man wearing a blue and black tie and black suit speaks in front of a microphone on a white background.
Interim Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Dr. Jeff Coben speaks during a Justice administrative briefing.
Governor Jim Justice/YouTube

Officials said in a Justice administrative briefing they have “positive momentum” toward restructuring the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR).

Legislation passed earlier this year directed the DHHR to separate after years of turmoil within the agency. House Bill 2006 terminates the DHHR beginning Jan. 1, 2024 and creates three departments: the Department of Human Services, the Department of Health and the Department of Health Facilities. The bill was signed into law on March 4.

During the briefing, Dr. Jeff Coben, interim secretary of the DHHR, was asked multiple questions about the progress of the restructuring process.

“The legislation that’s been introduced is important, but equally, if not more important, is it’s building on our programs, getting the workforce in place that we need, strengthening that workforce, strengthening the families, and making it so that people are through the economic work that’s been done through the gut by the governor and the legislature, through creating jobs and opportunities for people,” Coben said.

Coben said the DHHR hired 40 new Child Protective Service (CPS) workers since January. The department is currently 72 percent staffed according to the Child Welfare Dashboard.

Coben also noted that the structure of the agency has been in place for about 35 years and said it is important to communicate with federal partners as the restructuring progresses.

“We’ve got a nine-month timeframe to prepare for the three new departments that will be in place,” he said. “We have to work very closely with our federal agencies, and federal partners, because so much of the funding that supports the programs of DHHR, and the future programs of the three new departments is done in collaboration with our federal partners.”

The DHHR reported a $7,674,467,799 budget for the fiscal year 2024 during January’s Interim legislative session. Tara Buckner, chief financial officer of the DHHR testified at that hearing that 75 percent of the DHHR’s budget is made up of federal funding.

These federal funds provide for programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“Our goal from the beginning has been to really focus and strengthen our child protective services agencies, our foster care system, and really at our most vulnerable citizens across the state,” Coben said. “And I think that we’ve we’ve really had some strong positive momentum and continue to build on that momentum.”