The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

May 12, 2009

Stimulus funds sought for social services

Mannix Porterfield

Federal stimulus dollars need to be injected into West Virginia’s new budget to avoid layoffs and maintain the level of social services, the leader of an advocacy group says.

Rick Wilson, director of the American Friends Service Committee, West Virginia Economic Justice Project, said Tuesday he hasn’t communicated the idea directly to Gov. Joe Manchin, but has been working with his legislative liaison, Jim Pitrolo.

“The governor has made similar statements that he wants to avoid cuts and layoffs,” Wilson said.

Just how much of the federal stimulus package West Virginia received would be earmarked for social services hasn’t been determined, but Wilson pointed out 80 percent of the state’s general revenue fund is dedicated to public education, higher education and health and human resources.

“These and other programs are vital to the current and future well-being of state residents,” he said.

“What we’re trying to get across is we have a one-time opportunity to minimize the harm, and I think Gov. Manchin is kind of moving in that direction, anyway. We support that step. Let’s make maximum use of the stimulus now to avoid making the recession worse.”

Wilson was joined by other groups at the Capitol in a news conference seeking use of the stimulus money when lawmakers return May 26 to resume their legislative session with heavy emphasis on piecing together a new budget.

“A recession is, by definition, a decline in economic activity,” said Jim McKay, representing Prevent Child Abuse.

“Deep cuts in state spending could lead to a further decline, harm vulnerable families and undercut the foundations of West Virginia’s future recovery.”

Any major cuts would have a huge, negative impact on the economy, Wilson cautioned.

“The idea in passing a stimulus was to inject that money now and help the state avoid going into a crisis,” he said.

Wilson said the two education budgets present “a lot of flexibility,” and the governor would have some discretionary dollars with the increase in the Medicaid match.

“We’re not giving him a line by line thing,” he said.

“We’re saying let’s take advantage of the stimulus and do what it’s intended to do.”

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