Governor reiterates desire for full financial support of West Virginians with disabilities

State officials acknowledged this week that in recent years West Virginia spent millions of dollars less than was allocated for waiver programs meant to support people with disabilities, instead shifting dollars to expenses like covid-19 testing or contract nursing.

Those monetary shifts were most pronounced, officials told legislators, during pandemic years when the use of those waivers was down because people were reluctant to use the financial support to bring workers into their homes. So the money was shifted to other needs.

Even as recently as fiscal 2023, though, a Department of Human Services report showed about $29 million went unused.

The level of state funding for intellectual and developmental disabilities waivers, commonly called IDD waivers, has been at the center of a simmering budget dispute among lawmakers and the governor.

A large crowd of families gathered at the Capitol on Sunday to push lawmakers to revisit a 10% cut to the program that was approved at the end of the legislative session.

Gov. Jim Justice

Gov. Jim Justice weeks ago called the budget that passed a “dog’s mess,” finding it lacking in support for human services support. He vowed to called lawmakers back into special session as early as possible to revisit the funding.

Asked by MetroNews today about the appropriate level of funding, Justice stood by that position. 

“Whether it be IDD waivers or it be Medicaid or whatever it may be, we’ve got folks in all types of areas. We work so hard to clear that waitlist on the IDD waivers and everything, we worked so hard to get that done, and we’ve got it done — and now we’ve got a lot of those folks in limbo,” Justice said.

The governor continued, “Why did we do this? Why in the world did we do this? Why did we strip a hundred million dollars out of something that we didn’t have to do, and absolutely we knew it was really going to hurt people. But I’m telling you right now you’re blaming the wrong guy here. If anybody is suggesting in any way that Jim Justice did something, you’re blaming the wrong guy.”

Lawmakers asked a range of questions about the state’s level of funding for human services this week during an interim meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on Health.

Officials with the state Department of Human Services testified that prior to the pandemic state officials were fairly good at balancing appropriations with the cost of services.

Cynthia Persily

During the pandemic the balance got out of whack, testified Cynthia Persily, secretary for the West Virginia Department of Human Services.

“What is important to note is that leftover funds in the past were used in previous DHHR administrations, and especially during the pandemic, to address other pressing costs across the one DHHR – including contract nursing services at state hospitals and nursing homes as well as covid testing through the Bureau for Public Health, Medicaid contract services that rose during the increased enrollment during the pandemic, self-funding of legislative mandates and others,” Persily said.

The pandemic occurred at the same time, around 2020, when officials in the Justice administration were working to clear 1,100 people off the waitlist for the IDD program.

Cindy Beane

“We made significant changes for us to be able to clear the waitlist, and that was a promise of this body and Governor Justice. Governor Justice and this body realized that individuals with intellectual disabilities need to be remain at home without all possible,” said Cindy Beane, commissioner of the state Bureau for Medical Services.

But the pandemic at that same time meant “you had individuals and families saying ‘I don’t necessarily want additional workers come into my home,'” Beane said.

“So, of course our spend went down dramatically. Our spend is just now coming back up to where it should be and rightsizing.”

Now, human services officials anticipate demand for in-home support programs to grow. Based on observations that spending was less than the money available, Beane said, an additional 150 slots were added to the IDD program in 2022. At the end of this year, she said, another 90 slots will be added.

After that, she said, officials will again evaluate whether the budget would allow additional slots.

The Legislature broke apart the $7 billion Department of Health and Human Resources last year into three agencies. The budgeting process is now more specific too, leading Persily to say financial transfers unauthorized by the Legislature won’t take place any more. She promised greater transparency.

“These between-department transfers will no longer take place,” Persily said.

Michael Hite

Delegate Michael Hite, R-Berkeley, questioned the wisdom of the financial shifts of recent years.

“I understand the need to rob Peter to pay Paul for some reason,” he said, “but we’re robbing the developmentally disabled to pay for covid testing and contract nurses and nursing facilities.”

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