Gov. alludes to possible Aug. special session

West Virginia lawmakers just finished one special session, and Gov. Jim Justice is already acknowledging the possibility of another late this summer.

“I think August makes the most sense to me,” Justice said at a Friday news briefing, alluding to additional surplus dollars that lawmakers could allocate. “We surely will probably plan to have another special session to address these huge surpluses that we have at some point in time.”

Lawmakers passed 15 bills proposed by the governor during a special session last week. Those included a funding adjustment for the program supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, state dollars to bolster higher education while problems with federal student aid are worked out plus funding for highways maintenance, a new agriculture lab at West Virginia State University, food banks and more.

State officials have not addressed a concern about child care in West Virginia. Justice, at one point, had suggested that issue would be on the special session that occurred last week.

The issue is simmering as childcare providers close under economic pressure.

Updates to the federal Child Care and Development Fund, the nation’s largest funding stream to help families afford child care, now require that states subsidize based on enrollment rather than attendance. West Virginia needs to set aside $23 million for a child care subsidy program through the Department of Human Services.

Some delegates tried to amend the funding into spending bills last week.

One of those attempts was made by Delegate Amy Summers, R-Taylor, during a House Finance Committee meeting “so that those companies and families that use that childcare may feel confident that their provider may still be there. I would like to restore that confidence to the families and the providers that we’re going to be able to pay that through the entire budget year.”

The proposed amendment did not succeed, in part because other lawmakers worried that it could inadvertently sabotage the main bill. A similar attempt on the House floor fell flat.
Now the matter may be addressed in a few months.

“One of the things we’re looking to do here is to make sure that we are addressing this issue in conformity with applicable federal law and that we’re addressing it in a way that is sustainable long term,” House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said last week on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

“So if you’re running one of the businesses in West Virginia that we look to to help us provide the services for employers and for employees, for that matter, to care for children in West Virginia, you need to know and you need to have some comfort and certainty that the funding stream that your business model is based upon is stable and long-term viable. So a one-time infusion of capital to carry a program for a matter of a few months isn’t the way we want to build a business model.” Hanshaw said West Virginia needs a plan for longer-term stability.

The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce continues to urge the legislature and governor
to address childcare this year, said Brian Dayton, vice president of policy and advocacy.

“Access to — and affordability of — quality childcare continues to be one of the main issues plaguing workforce participation in West Virginia,” Dayton said.

“Additionally, due to the upcoming expiration of federal money this fall, reimbursement of childcare facilities for publicly supported children is set to revert back to an attendance-based system, rather than the enrollment-based system that has been in place for the past several years. This is likely to cause several childcare facilities to limit availability or close entirely. Addressing this issue is pro-family, pro-jobs and pro-workforce.”

That funding is set to expire Aug. 31.