Local candidates unveil Protect Our Children policy plan

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Jeanette Rowsey speaking during the conference.

Local candidates running under the West Virginia Can’t Wait Movement announced at a press conference Tuesday in Huntington their policy plans to help combat child poverty in the Mountain State.

“For too many years, families have struggled with stagnant wages, rising costs and service cuts that hurt seniors, veterans, folks with disabilities and especially children,” said Jeanette Rowsey, Democratic candidate for House District 17. “My first consideration in any legislative decision will be its potential impact on the health, safety and well-being of all West Virginia’s children.”

The plan unveiled by Rowsey and other local candidates outlines measures such as raising the income limit for child care subsidies to 400% of the current federal poverty level, offering increased pay and additional training to child care workers and addressing “underlying factors of poverty, childhood trauma and addiction.”

According to statistics from the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, just five other states in the U.S. have a worse rate of child poverty than West Virginia, where nearly one in four children lived below the federal poverty line even before feeling the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and its broader implications.

According to Child Trends, in 2017, West Virginia children also were the most likely in the nation to be forced into foster care.

Rowsey and other West Virginia Can’t Wait candidates said one crucial solution to improve life conditions for children in the state is to realign spending priorities to invest in young people and other struggling communities.

“First, investing in our youngest West Virginians—those under five years old—will yield the highest long-term return on investment for our state, from $8 to 15 on every dollar spent,” Rowsey said. “Second is that without meaningful subsidies, our early child care situation is not and will never be sustainable. The math just doesn’t work.”

Rowsey said parents are forced to spend too much money on daycare services while caretakers are paid far too little for their labor.

“Forcing parents to spend a significant chunk of their household income on day care, while at the same time paying poverty wages to child care workers, is a triple economic assault on families, the mostly female child care workforce and West Virginia’s business climate,” she said.

West Virginia Can’t Wait co-chair Katey Lauer said the movement’s Protect Our Children plan reflects the interests of struggling West Virginians because those same West Virginians wrote the plan themselves.

“We stand on the side of children, not corporate lobbyists,” Lauer said. “That’s why this plan was written by foster parents, social workers and families in crisis—not out-of-state landowners and insurance company CEOs.”

Douglas Harding can be contacted at [email protected]