Pages tagged "Family Economic Security"
West Virginia can create a more prosperous state if the strength of working families and the policies that support them become a priority. This is according to a West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy report that details seven policies to reverse the top-down approach that has left the average West Virginian behind.Read more
- West Virginia bucks the national trend with its high confinement rates. It was one of only five states where the rate of detention increased, despite a drop in both crime and population.
- In 2013, West Virginia confined juveniles at a rate of 510 per 10,000. By contrast, Massachusetts, with nearly four times the population of West Virginia, had just 393 youth in confinement.
- African American youth were nearly three times as likely to be confined as their white counterparts. West Virginia’s youth confinement rate for African Americans was 1.5 times higher than the national average.
- West Virginia was second only to Wyoming to confining young females. With a rate of 175 per 100,000, the Mountain State far exceeded the national rate of 47.
- Incarceration or other forms of detainment early in life are a major life disruption in the ordinary life course, which can have ripple effects into the future. Prior incarceration was a greater predictor of recidivism than carrying a weapon, gang membership, or poor parental relationships.
- In 2013, only one out of every eight committed youth in West Virginia was locked up based on a violent crime, such as homicide, aggravated assault, robbery, or sexual assault.
- Community-based programs were more cost-efficient and effective with recidivism rates than DJS facilities.
- In 2014, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin convened the West Virginia Intergovernmental Task Force on Juvenile Justice, which brought together legislative and judicial leaders as well as system experts to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the state’s system and to produce policy recommendations.
- West Virginia’s juvenile justice system has made real progress, however, it continues to face significant problems, particularly in the area of juvenile mental health.
- Looking at the system through a mental health lens could lead to more constructive solutions and positive outcomes for youth offenders. Some next steps include: creating a task force to address juvenile mental health; build the infrastructure to help public schools address mental health issues before a student is suspended or sent to court; and a long-term goal should to build an infrastructure which would ensure that students in danger of entering the system are assessed and referred to appropriate community-based programs whenever possible and appropriate.
- West Virginia’s communities, families, and youth will benefit if the only young people who are confined or detained in out-of-home facilities are those who constitute a threat to the public or themselves.
This West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy report, West Virginia Economy Would Suffer Under Proposed Health Care Plans, breaks down the economic gains the state has experienced since the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the devastating impacts its repeal could have in West Virginia, specifically in rural areas with higher concentrations of health-care jobs.
Over the last decade, the growth in the health-care industry has been one of the few bright spots in the state’s otherwise struggling economy. Repealing the ACA would undo much of the state’s economic progress spurred by ACA and health-care industry. According to the American Hospital Association, West Virginia’s hospitals have a $9.8 billion impact on the state’s economy.
- Since 2008, total private sector jobs in West Virginia have declined by 4.1 percent, while health-care jobs have increased by 9 percent.
- Nearly one out-of-every five private sector jobs in West Virginia are in the health-care sector. In West Virginia’s rural counties, one out-of-every six private sector jobs are in health care.
- A total of $3.7 billion was spent on Medicaid services in West Virginia in 2016, including Medicaid expansion, while approximately 30,000 West Virginians received $135.7 million in premium tax credits. -
- The health-care industry accounts for over 10 percent of the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and has grown five times faster than the rest of the economy since 2014.
- Currently, six of the state’s top 10 private employers are hospitals and health-care providers.
- The American Health Care Act (AHCA) and the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) could cause West Virginia to lose more than 10,000 jobs and over $1 billion in lost GDP.
- The AHCA and the BCRA are estimated to cause 195,000 West Virginians to lose their health coverage, nearly half of the state’s Medicaid population.
If enacted, these bills would bar the state from applying for a federal waiver to temporarily suspend the federal requirement that limits SNAP to three months out of every three years for childless, non-disabled adults unless they are working at least 80 hours per month, participating in a qualified job training program, or in workfare. States are allowed to apply for the waiver to suspend the time limit in areas of sustained high unemployment. While West Virginia used the waiver to suspend the time limit statewide in years past, Governor Tomblin ended the waiver in nine counties beginning January 1, 2016 that had low unemployment. These bills would suspend the waiver statewide indefinitely regardless of whether there is high unemployment or a major crisis such as a flood or natural disaster.
Though work requirements may sound good - especially in a state with historically low workforce participation - denying food assistance to unemployed and part-time workers will do little to encourage employment. It will, however, increase food insecurity for thousands of West Virginians, drain millions of federal dollars from our economy, and put additional strain on our food pantries, soup kitchens, and charities that are already stretched thin.
SNAP Time Limits Put the Poorest and Most Vulnerable at Risk
The population subject to the three-month time limit are childless adults who are unemployed or working below 20 hours a week. These individuals are extremely poor, most only have a high school degree, and many are veterans, homeless people, noncustodial parents, and people with a mental and physical limitation. Most childless adults on SNAP are also strongly tied to the workforce. According to a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
- Childless adults participating in SNAP have an average income of 29 percent of the poverty line or $3,400, while 46 percent live in households with no incomes and three quarters live in a household with income below half the poverty line ($5,835 for one person).
- Over a quarter (28 percent) of childless adults on SNAP have less than a high school education, and more than half (57 percent) have only a high school diploma or GED. Approximately 15 percent have some college education or a college degree.
- Approximately 75 percent of SNAP households with a childless, working-age adult worked in the year before or after receiving SNAP while many of those not working while receiving SNAP were actively looking for work.
Because many childless adults on SNAP have these barriers to employment and independence, there are limited job or volunteer opportunities that match their abilities.
Expansion of SNAP Time Limit To Struggling Counties Makes No Sense
While most of the nation has recovered from the Great Recession, West Virginia has not. Most counties are still struggling with very high unemployment. Enacting a time limit to food assistance in areas of high unemployment and a lack of job opportunities when a temporary waiver of the time limit is available makes no sense. As discussed earlier, West Virginia has already ended the waiver in nine counties in West Virginia that had relatively low unemployment and higher population density (i.e. access to more jobs) and expanding it to distressed areas of the state will only makes things worse for low-income adults. Many of these areas have been hit particularly hard by the recent decline in coal production, such as Mingo County that has an unemployment rate of almost 10 percent.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHR), there are 7,310 non-exempt childless adults on SNAP in the other 46 counties in West Virginia that would be cut off of food assistance if the state is forced to implement a three month limit. DHHR has already cut 5,417 people off of SNAP in the nine pilot counties where the federal work requirement restriction was put into place on January 1, 2016.
Though it is unknown how many childless adults on SNAP found employment after being cut off, DHHR found that the program has not "had a significant impact on employment figures for the ABAWD population in the nine issuance-limited counties" and that they have not seen a "clear increase in the number of ABAWDs maintaining benefits sue to meeting the work requirements." In fact, of the 13,984 state-wide referrals made to the SNAP Employment & Training Program in 2016, only 259 gained employment. Most likely, this means most people lost food assistance because they had barriers (see above) to meeting the work requirement.
Experience in Kansas Shows Time Limit Did Little to Encourage Work
While some proponents of imposing a three month time limit on SNAP highlight that it has been effective in raising employment, a careful analysis of the evidence suggests that imposing the time limit had little effect on work but did cause thousands of poor residents in Kansas to lose food assistance. The chart below looks at the number of childless non-disabled adults in SNAP before Kansas imposed its three-month time limit (Quarter 3, 2013) and a year after it was imposed (Quarter 1, 2015). Over 20,000 people stopped participating in SNAP after the Kansas benefit cutoff. The number of non-disabled childless adults on SNAP that were working also declined, from about 6,200 to 3,570. Though some have touted this as a success since the share of people working increased (from 21 percent to 42 percent), it really just reflects the number of caseload changes, not improved circumstances.
The much larger and important question is what happened to those that were cutoff of SNAP in Kansas. While we don't know about what happened in Kansas, research in other states has found that most remain poor and that many do not find work and struggle with various other problems, including a lack of health insurance, adequate housing, and trouble paying monthly bills.
Cutting Off Food Assistance Hurts Our State's Fragile Economy
The loss of federal dollars from SNAP flowing into the state is significant. According to DHHR, the average monthly SNAP benefit is $203.20. This means the state lost approximately $15 million in federal SNAP benefits that would other wise be in the state's economy in 2016. If the state is forced to impose the time limit on the other 46 counties, this would amount to $17.8 million in lost federal money for the state. This does not take into account that SNAP has a high economic multiplier, which will lower economic growth. For every $1 in new SNAP benefits, it results in an estimated $1.80 in total economic activity. Imposing the time limit would also strain local nonprofits and private charities who will have to serve this population with food assistance and other supportive services.
Another major concern about the existing three month time limit in the nine pilot counties, and expanding to the other 46 counties, is that capacity of DHHR to work in rural areas to connect these individuals to jobs and training. As discussed above, this population faces several barriers to employment or volunteer work because of a lack of transportation and other challenges that are more acute in rural counties. DHHR estimates that it would cost over $2 million to extend the SNAP E&T program to these other counties, draining the state of resources when it faces a $500 million budget shortfall this year.
Instead of cutting thousands of more low-income people from food assistance by permanently tying the Governor's hands from providing food assistance in areas that are struggling with job opportunities, the legislature should be exploring non-punitive ways to help connect more people to jobs and to ensure our most vulnerable residents have access to the services they need to achieve self-sufficiency.
Of the estimated 184,000 West Virginians who would lose coverage from repealing the ACA, 84 percent have incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level - which is considered the amount of income a typical family needs to make ends meet. Approximately 44 percent of those that could lose coverage are below the federal poverty line, which was $24,300 in 2016. If the ACA is repealed, the share of those below the federal poverty line without health insurance would grow fourfold, from 7 percent to 28 percent, according to the Urban Institute.
Repealing the ACA would especially impact those in West Virginia without a college degree. Of the 171,000 adults who would lose coverage, 90 percent do not have a college degree. Approximately 91 percent are white, while 5 percent are black and 2 percent are Hispanic.
Among West Virginians who are expected to lose coverage, 73 percent are in working families. This figure is even higher for some families: 79 percent of children and 80 percent of parents who would lose coverage are in families with at least one worker.
Payday loans notoriously carry 300+% APR (annual percentage rate). Strategically located in low-income neighborhoods, payday lenders intentionally trap borrowers in debt that they cannot escape. The average payday borrower is trapped by ten transactions in a year.
Though payday lenders are not allowed in our state, we still need a strong national rule. Payday lenders will use a weak rule to seek a green light to come back into West Virginia.
Thank you so much for acting today.
Using Private Contractors to Verify Eligibility in Public Assistance Programs Wasteful & Could Hurt Families
The Senate and the House have introduced bills (SB 312 & HB 4454) that aim to make it harder for low-income people in West Virginia to receive public assistance benefits (such as SNAP, TANF and Medicaid), while potentially draining millions from the state's economy and denying benefits to those in need. Dubbed the "Welfare Fraud Prevention Act," the legislation has three core components:
- It creates an enhanced eligibility verification system (EVS) that would be run by a private third-party vendor whose task would be to screen people on public assistance (administered by DHHR) to determine eligibility.
- Eliminates federal work waivers for SNAP (food stamps) for non-disabled adults by limiting SNAP to just three months.
- Requires photos on electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards that provide contain food stamp (SNAP) benefits and cash assistance (TANF).
The legislation also requires additional data reporting of services provided by physicians and others that treat Medicaid patients and it requires the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) to track out-of-state spending on SNAP and TANF.
This post is going to focus on the first core provision – creating an enhanced verification system. While West Virginia – and especially the federal government – should be doing all it can to stop fraud and errors in public assistance programs, this legislation could not only cost the state millions, but could wrongly deny assistance to thousands of likely eligible people.
According to DHHR, to contract with a third-party vendor to create a computerized eligibility verification system it would cost $10 million per year. The legislation would require hiring 64 additional staff at DHHR's Office of Inspector General and Fraud Management (OIG) to carry out state-wide investigations at a cost of nearly $4.3 million. About half of these costs would presumably be shared with the federal government ($7 million).
As DHHR correctly notes, it already maintains a computerized verification system (RAPIDS) that meets many of the provisions in this legislation, including the use of various databases within state and federal government to ensure eligibility. (All states use some form of a verification system for public assistance programs such as SNAP and Medicaid.) Therefore, requiring an additional private contractor to carry out this task may lead to huge inefficiencies and overlap, not to mention potentially reducing essential services. The concerns of DHHR where echoed in 2015 by Montana Governor Steve Bullock when he vetoed what was nearly a carbon copy of the bill introduced this year in West Virginia.
While no state has implemented a third-party enhanced verification system to cover as many public assistance programs as the one described here, the state of Illinois implemented one for its Medicaid program in 2012. Its experience offers a cautionary tale of how such a program can fall short on savings while also denying people public assistance.
Lessons from the Illinois Experience
In 2012, the state launched the Illinois Medicaid Redetermination Project (IMRP) with $70 million of authorized funds (two years) to hire a private contractor (Maximus) to redetermine if people enrolled in Medicaid were still eligible. Based on recommendations provided by the private contractor, state caseworkers sent letters to Medicaid enrollees who they deemed may be ineligible. If these households didn't respond within 10 days or sent information confirming their ineligibility, their benefits were discontinued.
According to the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS), a large majority (84%) of households losing Medicaid coverage in 2014 had their coverage cancelled because they did not respond, rather than not being eligible. And 89 percent of households who did lose coverage due to a non-response were "likely eligible," according to Illinois DHS.
According to a recent academic journal article by Michael Koetting – who was deputy director of the Illinois DHS from 2010 through 2014 – "at least half of the people removed were actually eligible, perhaps a lot more." In 2015, according to Illinois DHS, more than a third of households whose Medicaid health coverage was cancelled had their coverage reinstated.
Another important consideration in this redetermination process carried out by Illinois was that the people most likely to be found ineligible were not big users of the program nor did they make up a significant portion of state Medicaid costs. According to Koetting, during the first six months of the project "roughly half the people removed from the rolls had not used Medicaid services in the previous six month" and "those removed clients who had used services had used markedly fewer than those who stayed."
The promised savings from this program never materialized. While the Foundation of Government Accountability predicted (and still says) that Illinois would save $350 million in 2013 from implementing this verification system - while the state estimated it would save $150 million in 2013 - the state only saved $2.6 million during that year. In short, the state of Illinois spent millions of dollars on a private contractor to collect data the state already collected that led to canceling health care coverage for people that were likely eligible.
SB 312 and HB 4454 contain pernicious incentives to encourage removal of those on public assistance
One of the most troubling aspects of this legislation is that it creates a financial incentive for the contractor (third-party vendor) to remove West Virginians from public assistance programs. According to section C of § 9-10-2, the bill sets up a contractual arrangement where a vendor can only receive payment if it is able to remove West Virginians from public benefits programs and show cost-savings to the state. This could, in turn, result in the use of tactics that are meant to terminate enrollment for people who are eligible for programs.
As discussed above, this concern is warranted based on results from Illinois. In Illinois the private contractor showed "savings" by removing people from the state Medicaid program for failure to respond to mail after 10 days. These Illinois residents were removed from the Medicaid program regardless of actual eligibility and regardless of whether they had actually received the letter. This is not an acceptable practice and this legislation seems to encourage such practices that could be just a backdoor way to cut public benefit rolls without having a public process to change eligibility.
West Virginia should learn from the Illinois experience that this approach to eliminating fraud in public assistance programs is not a fiscally sound approach and it could lead to a myriad of untended consequences that impact the well-being of our state's most vulnerable population.
The state should focus its limited resources on more modest proposals to eliminate ineligibility in public assistance programs, such as making it easier easier to communicate with an adequate number of caseworkers. Moreover, the state should focus resources on initial eligibility determination and adequate screening. And if the state and federal government really want to focus on where large potential savings can be realized, those efforts should aim to curtail fraud from undisciplined contracting and billing with vendors who are in a position to aggregate program benefits.
The West Virginia Senate votes today on a bill to drug test welfare recipients. SB 6 would create a three-year pilot project to drug test TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). Last year, a similar bill stalled in the Senate Finance Committee, never making it to the floor.
The bill's sponsor, Senator Ryan Ferns, describes the bill as a way to "...assist individuals who need help and get them help," and, while West Virginia does face a substance abuse problem, there is no evidence that targeting the state's poorest with expensive and unnecessary procedures will help solve it.
SB 6 would require drug testing of applicants for TANF for whom WV DHHR employees have determined there is a "reasonable suspicion" of substance abuse. In December 2015, there were 7,715 TANF (also known as WV Works) cases in the state. Of those about 2,882 were adult cases, while 4,833 were child-only cases.
The fiscal note for the bill shows estimated costs of $50,000 in the first year, and $22.000/year after implementation. This only includes the costs of the drug tests themselves, which the bill requires DHHR to pay for, at an estimated cost of $56.50 per test.
While the bill requires applicants who fail a drug test to enter enter rehabilitative and workforce training programs in order to keep their benefits, it does not pay for treatment. Applicants who fail a drug test would be required to pay for treatment on their own to keep their benefits. The fiscal note for last year's version of the bill included the estimated costs of treatment, which were $4,600 for a six-week outpatient drug treatment program. In comparison, the average monthly TANF benefit in West Virginia is $340 per household, making paying for substance abuse treatment prohibitively expensive for most TANF recipients.
While the fiscal note for West Virginia's proposal is small, the experience of the other states with drug testing programs shows that the programs can become very costly to run, with no active program generating any savings for the state.
These programs have also failed at identifying substance abuse among their TANF populations. Reports from Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Utah, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Tennessee all show that their drug testing programs have all failed at identifying any significant number of substance abusers.
Research has shown that the percentage of welfare recipients using drugs is relatively small and consistent with those not receiving welfare. And the experience of basically every state that has tried drug testing TANF recipients has shown that it fails at identifying any significant number of substance abusers. So how are we helping those who need help, as Senator Ferns puts it, by drug testing TANF recipients? The answer is we're not helping anyone.
Proposals like SB 6 are based on stereotypes about prevalence of substance abuse among recipients— not evidence. The fact is that drug testing welfare recipients is a flawed and inefficient way at identifying people who need treatment. No study has shown that denying assistance facilitates substance abuse treatment, and requiring someone who does need help to pay up to $4,600 in order to keep their $340/month in benefits creates only additional barriers to treatment.
Investing in substance abuse treatment is an efficient use of taxpayer dollars, but expensive and unnecessary policies that are based more on stereotype and punishing the poor than on facts and evidence are not. If West Virginia wants to tackle its substance abuse problem, we need to look at what works.
The West Virginia Legislature is poised to enact a so-called right-to-work (RTW) law this week. The House of Delegates is taking up an amended version of the "WV Workplace Freedom Act" this afternoon. The law would prohibit unions and employers from negotiating a contract that requires employees who benefit from union representation to pay for their fair share toward those costs.
So far, 25 states have enacted RTW laws, predominantly in the South and Southwest. While right-to-work laws have nothing to do with guaranteeing jobs for workers, some in the business community view it as a strategy for attracting new businesses to locate in West Virginia, despite its downside risks of lowering wages and hurting unions that helped build the middle class in our country.
Here are five important things you need to know:
1. It's about lowering wages and eroding workplace protections. As an economic development tool, the professed aim of RTW is to reduce the power of unions by depriving them of resources (dues), which ultimately weakens the union and strengthens the employers' hand in bargaining for lower pay and benefits. By decreasing the likelihood that businesses will have to negotiate with their workers, this will lower labor costs, reduce the cost of doing business, and will supposedly incentivize out-of-state manufacturers and other businesses to locate in West Virginia. If RTW didn't lower wages and weaken workplace protections across the board, there would be no incentive for companies to move to West Virginia. This, in a nutshell, is the hope of RTW supporters such as the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
2. Academic research is unanimous that RTW reduces unionization. While there is no strong evidence that RTW laws help or harm a state's economy, there is a broad academic consensus that it weakens labor unions. If this happens, it could mean even worse economic and social outcomes in the state. This is because unionization is strongly associated with higher economic mobility, less income inequality, higher wages, safer workers conditions, better benefits and larger voter turnout.
3. The WVU report on RTW is fundamentally flawed. While a recent study by John Deskins at West Virginia University concluded that RTW would boost jobs in West Virginia, the study is fraught with basic design problems. For example, the WVU study misidentifies that Texas and Utah adopted RTW in the 1990s, when both states adopted RTW before 1960. The WVU study also failed to adopt a standard academic practice that accounts for unobserved differences between states, such as the advent of air-conditioning in the South, access to oversees markets, and other important state characteristics. When researchers at the Economic Policy Institute accounted for these problems and replicated WVU's findings, they found no relationship between RTW status and employment growth. Tim Bartik, an economist with the Upjohn Institute and one of the country's leading economic development experts, recently reviewed the WVU study and concluded that it "does not provide any convincing evidence that a state that adopts RTW laws will, as a result, experience faster job growth." The flaws with the WVU study highlight why state policymakers should not rely on its conclusions to adopt RTW.
4. RTW is not about "workplace freedom." While RTW proponents define ‘workplace freedom" as letting workers opt out of paying a representation fee to pay for the benefits they are receiving under any negotiated union contract, most would define workplace freedom as being treated with dignity and respect on the job. That means getting paid an honest wage for an honest day's work, and having access to benefits such as paid sick days, paid family leave, health care, and a retirement plan. The only freedom workers would receive if RTW were enacted is the ability to get something for nothing.
5. Low workforce skills are the central reason for West Virginia's economic woes, not lack of RTW. A recent in-depth study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Kentucky that explored why the state is so poor found that the shortage of skilled workers - not RTW – was the central reason for the state's relative poor economic performance. Since West Virginia faces many of the same social and economic problems as Kentucky, policymakers would be well advised to promote polices that improve the skills of the state's workforce instead of RTW that could reduce workforce training.
While we are all worried about our economic future and want to build a strong economy in our state with good-paying jobs, enacting right to work is not going to get us there. Instead it may hurt working families by redistributing income from workers to employers and from middle-class taxpayers to the wealthy. I hope the legislature in West Virginia will see that we can't build West Virginia by tearing down working families and unions. Instead we need to focus on the policies that we know work, such investing in early childhood education, research and development, higher education, workforce training, and effective ways to help more people get out of poverty.