CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The House of Delegates wrapped a busy week of work this past week by beginning to advance its Fiscal Year 2021 budget, which controls government spending while emphasizing priorities such as improving the state’s foster care system and eliminating the wait list for a critical disability assistance program.
The House Finance Committee on Thursday passed out its plan for the upcoming budget year, which begins July 1. House Bill 4021 authorizes $4.579 billion in General Revenue Fund spending for the coming fiscal year, down roughly $115 million from the $4.694 billion that’s estimated to be spent in the current fiscal year.
“This is a responsible budget that respects our taxpayers, makes strategic cuts to government spending and funds several key priorities that benefit our most vulnerable citizens,” said House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley. “This budget funds vital improvements to our state’s foster care system, fully funds the I/DD waiver program so that we eliminate the waiting list for families hoping to benefit from this program, all while avoiding any tax increases on our citizens.”
House Republicans had spoken out last fall that elimination of the waitlist for the state’s Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities waiver program was a priority for this session. That program is designed to help individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities by allowing them to receive services in their natural settings, like their home or local communities, rather than in an institutional setting.
The House’s budget proposal fully funds that program at $108 million, which includes $19.8 million in additional funding to eliminate the waitlist.
Additionally, the House budget bill provides the additional $16.8 million needed to improve the state’s foster care system that was included in House Bill 4092, which passed earlier this session. That money was targeted to increase funds that go directly to foster and kinship families, along with child placement agencies.
“The increased funding to address the foster care crisis and clear the I/DD waiver backlog have been clear priorities for the House this session, and this budget delivers on our promise to these families,” said Speaker Pro Tempore Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan.
The budget proposal has been reported to the full House for further consideration. It will be up for amendments and a vote early this coming week.
The Senate has also been working separately on its own budget bill. After both houses pass their respective bills, they will typically appoint a conference committee to negotiate differences between the two chambers’ respective spending plans.
Leaders hope to have a budget passed by the Legislature before the regular session ends March 7, without the need for an extended session to complete it.
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Meanwhile, this past Wednesday marked the 50th day of the regular session. Also known as “Crossover Day,” this is the last day for bills to pass out of their house of origin to remain active for the final 10 days of session. (This rule, however, does not apply to the budget or other appropriations bills.)
Due to this deadline, delegates worked long hours in floor sessions processing bills and passing them on to the Senate.
Among the bills that passed this week was House Bill 4971, which would exempt from the certificate of need process health care providers who want to purchase or build a health care facility in the area where a community hospital has announced its intent to close.
The bill was a response to the closure of Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling and announced closure of Fairmont Regional Medical Center.
“Community hospitals are the backbone of health care services in this state, and when one closes, we need to do all we can to make sure the citizens in these communities have access to local care,” said House Government Organization Committee Chairman Gary Howell, R-Mineral, the bill’s lead sponsor. “This bill will make it easier for a new provider to step in and fill the gap created by these closures.”
Other significant bills that passed the House included:
Through the first 50 days of session, the House passed 243 bills to the state Senate. The regular legislative session ends March 7.