Jack Walker Published

With Federal Clawback Averted, Justice Renews Calls For Health Funding

A stethoscope lays on top of medical paperwork
Gov. Jim Justice called for additional funding for West Virginia health and human services during a virtual press briefing Tuesday.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

For weeks, the possible federal clawback of $465 million in COVID-19 relief funding for schools has loomed large in West Virginia.

But on Friday Gov. Jim Justice announced the state would not have to return the funds, which the United States Department of Education initially said were not spent according to federal guidelines.

News of the potential clawback threw a wrench into the final weeks of the West Virginia Legislature’s regular session this year. Out of caution, lawmakers ultimately approved a state budget of $4.9 billion — a figure lower than the $5.22 billion budget Justice proposed in January.

In March, Justice announced plans to hold a special legislative session in May to reexamine budget spending. With the specter of the clawback removed, lawmakers are now looking to bulk up the state budget.

And Justice has expressed a particular focus on restoring funding to West Virginia’s health and human resources.

State lawmakers significantly reduced funding for Medicaid services in this year’s regular legislative session.

This included a reduction of nearly $11 million in funding for the state’s Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) Waiver program, which provides residents with disabilities financial support and at-home health services.

During a virtual press briefing Tuesday, Justice said the dismissal of the federal clawback opens the door for restored funding.

“Where we need to concentrate our efforts right off the get-go is to restore the dollars that we pulled out of the budget … for the most needy of our people,” he said. “We didn’t need to [cut funding], and if we don’t watch out we’re going to get our really needy folks in a real mess.”

Lawmakers who supported the cuts during this year’s regular session said the reductions would increase spending transparency and limit unnecessary expenditures.

But opponents of the budget cuts have expressed concern that the lack of funding could broadly reduce Medicaid services for West Virginia residents, including individuals with disabilities.

In March, Justice announced plans to call a special legislative session before May 14, West Virginia’s primary election. He said reexamining the state budget was a top priority for the prospective session.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers have expressed a preference that the session be held later in May, to coincide with interim meetings at the State Capitol.

As of Tuesday, no date for the special session has been finalized.