Parkersburg News and Sentinel. June 15, 2022.
Editorial: Bureaucracy: Bungling of disaster relief must not repeat
It has taken six years, and West Virginia is just now nearing the finish line in keeping up its end of the bargain to the hundreds of families whose homes were lost after the June 23, 2016, floods. Though officials may be feeling celebratory, the fact remains there are still 20 homes to be completed.
“We still anticipate to have everything finished by the end of September in our housing program,” Jennifer Ferrell told the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding Sunday.
Ferrell is director of community advancement in Mitch Carmichael’s West Virginia Department of Economic Development. If you’ve lost track of the number of agencies through which this project — and its money — have passed, you’re not alone.
Bureaucratic passing of the buck is one of the reasons the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development labeled West Virginia a “slow spender” for its handling of the $149 million in Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Relief it received — in 2018 — for rebuilding the homes.
So far, 367 houses and 46 bridges have been completed; and there have been 54 demolitions.
But there are — STILL — 20 to go.
Sadly, when projects from the 2016 flooding are completed, there will be projects from subsequent disasters to tackle. Such a job is never done in the Mountain State. What cannot be repeated is the fraud, bureaucratic bungling and agency hopping that took place with these projects and their funding.
Department heads and lawmakers must be vigilant in assuring no such debacle is repeated.
The Intelligencer. June 10, 2022.
Editorial: Opportunity For Change in W.Va.
It is an encouraging sign for West Virginia that our current crop of representatives in Washington, D.C., was able to bring home a huge sum of federal money for desperately needed broadband expansion.
In an announcement Monday, the U.S. Treasury Department said the Mountain State, Virginia, New Hampshire and Louisiana will receive more than half a billion dollars to connect “hundreds of thousands of Americans and small businesses to high-speed internet.”
As our state works to improve education and economic development opportunities, broadband is no longer a luxury.
“When you think about reliable, affordable, dependable, broadband access, it’s critical, absolutely critical, for West Virginians and anybody in America to do their jobs, complete their homework, keep up with their healthcare appointments and to compete in a 21st Century economy,” said U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Now comes the tricky part. Federal dollars are one thing. Using them for their intended purpose and to the benefit of Mountain State residents is another.
That task goes to the state Department of Economic Development, run by former Frontier and Citynet employee (and former West Virginia Senate President) Mitch Carmichael.
Funded programs include expanding existing network line extensions, focusing on major broadband infrastructure investments; and providing local government/matching broadband funding incentives.
It is critical we get this right. And while West Virginia does not have the most stellar reputation for its speed, efficiency and uprightness in spending federal money, it is — again — a credit to our current Congressional delegation that federal officials chose us to be among the first in this effort.
We have an opportunity to make real progress toward a change that will benefit the state in attracting and retaining residents, educating our kids and growing business. Let’s do what’s need to make this happen.
Bluefield Daily Telegraph. June 13, 2022.
Editorial: Shell game: Justice’s budget puts kids at risk
Gov. Jim Justice’s initiative to provide robust and welcome pay raises for the thin and overworked ranks of child welfare workers in the state is a fine example of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Justice and Bill Crouch, cabinet secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), announced recently that the governor had identified funding for 15 percent pay hikes for social service workers — about 970 of whom will be eligible for the boost in pay.
Where does the money in the governor’s grand plan come from? Vacancies in the department.
That’s right. In order to provide extra dollars to fatten state paychecks for a select few, the governor is willfully reducing the ranks of human resources available to monitor the welfare of some 7,000 foster children in the state — among our more vulnerable populations.
And yet the governor regards his plan as some sort of master stroke of fiscal management.
“And what we did is, we had vacancies. And as those vacancies were never filled and they’d been there vacant — and if we ever get people applying and all that, we’ll revisit — but right now all we had to do was mind the store the right way and be able to compensate these people more that are doing unbelievable work,” Justice said.
That’s right, instead of calling in and deferring to proven and experienced consultants in human resources on effective strategies to fill important jobs, instead of developing a plan to put more trained professionals in the field where they are desperately needed to keep kids out of harm’s way, the governor is playing a shell game with the state’s finances, collapsing paid positions so that he can move those budgeted salaries into pay hikes for those who remain.
At the end of the day, the workers will be required to do more, to take on additional cases and the kids will bear the brunt of the governor’s accounting.
As it stands, social workers in the state’s Child Protective Services are already falling short of making necessary contacts for each of their cases. And now, that responsibility will become even more difficult to handle.
Simply, the governor is increasing the odds that a foster child will be neglected or abused — sexually or physically or both — because there are fewer social workers available to act as a shield for so many children who need a super hero.
In December of last year, Commissioner Jeffrey Pack of the DHHR was testifying before the Senate Joint Committee on Children and Families, addressing specifically a vacancy rate of 27 percent at Child Protective Services.
“When you’re up over 40% (vacancies), you’re in trouble,” said Pack. “Just to think about what that means, if you’re a CPS worker… ordinarily, you would have 12 cases. Well, now you’ve got 24.”
And that is the situation the governor’s plan exacerbates.
Memo to the governor: Yes, the state needs to bump pay for social service workers. But when you intentionally and simultaneously increase their caseloads, the results will be disastrous for even more children, a great many of whom we are failing to protect as it is.
To the kids, this is no game. This is their life. Their means of survival.