Senate Bill 243 passed the Senate on Jan. 30, 2023. Photo by Will Price/WV Legislature

Lawmakers are taking a step to address child hunger in West Virginia even as obstacles still remain. But first, a series of proposals that could make it more difficult for providers of addiction treatment and recovery services to operate.

Trio of bills would place additional burdens on addiction treatment, recovery facilities

West Virginia lawmakers are advancing a series of bills related to addiction treatment and recovery, but some providers are worried this could make it harder to operate their facilities.

Proponents of the three bills — SB 243, SB 239 and SB 147 — say poorly-run treatment and recovery facilities are attracting folks from out-of-state, kicking them out unfairly and contributing to homelessness and crime. But there’s little hard data to back this up. 

SB 243 would require “residential substance use disorder service facilities” to offer patients who graduate, are kicked out from, or choose to leave their programs transportation back to a state where they have lived or have family ties. 

The bill doesn’t clarify whether this requirement applies to residential treatment facilities (often known as “inpatient rehabs”), recovery residences (often known as “sober living homes”), or both. 

Reggie Jones, executive director of Recovery Point West Virginia. Courtesy photo.

In Parkersburg, officials have also used fake and misleading statistics to blame both types of facilities for a multitude of problems, such as increases in crime, they say are caused by out-of-state residents. Reggie Jones, executive director of Recovery Point West Virginia, told lawmakers today that on the contrary, less than 2% of his organization’s residents come from outside West Virginia. 

Regardless, SB 239 also targets people from out-of-state. It would require officials to collect demographic information about people experiencing homelessness in West Virginia, including where they’re from. Officials would also have to determine “whether any health and human service benefits offered” in the state — such as residential treatment and recovery programs — attract “populations that are homeless or at risk of homelessness.” 

Industry representatives and recovery advocates also expressed serious concerns over SB 147, which would give tenants’ rights to residents of recovery residences in Cabell County. The state would then study Cabell County as a pilot program and consider expanding these changes elsewhere in West Virginia.  

Jones and others say these requirements are financially burdensome for recovery home operators. The bill provides narrow exceptions for operators to kick out residents  without going through a formal eviction process. And there are certain situations outside of those exceptions where removing someone quickly is key, Jones said during an interview.  

“Someone could go out to a bar, and get drunk and come back,” Jones said. “They’re not using or possessing any substances on premises, but having someone come back that’s living in your recovery residence that is intoxicated certainly jeopardizes the recovery of the other remaining residents in your recovery home.”

Regardless of these concerns, all three bills have already passed the Senate, and today they passed through the House Committee on Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse. All will have to clear at least one more House committee, before going before the full House for passage. —Ellie Heffernan

Go deeper: Stigmatize, blame, then restrict: How this West Virginia city responded to the opioid epidemic

Lawmakers take steps to tackle child hunger, but obstacles remain

Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, speaks on the Senate floor. Photo by Will Price/WV Legislative Photography.

West Virginia lawmakers are taking tentative steps to address child hunger in the state, but the main bill they’re considering is only a first step.

As it stands, a patchwork of programs exist to provide food to hungry kids. There are school feeding programs, two state-funded food banks that supply a series of food pantries, as well as churches and nonprofits across that fill in those gaps. The bill encourages school districts to enshrine the kinds of programs schools implemented to feed remote students during the pandemic, even year-round.

“The school system has the capacity to ensure that healthy food is available to all children,” said Kelli Caseman, the executive director of Think Kids West Virginia, a nonprofit dedicated to improving childrens’ health across the state. 

The bill would require all counties to conduct an annual survey of their student bodies to determine where food insecurity is having the largest impact. It also asks school districts to provide a list of local resources for hungry families, and to establish programs to feed kids during the summer and other times they aren’t in the classroom.

According to the bill’s sponsor, Senate Minority Leader Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, the bill is intended to bolster, but not replace those networks.

The bill provides no funding, so counties establishing the summer feeding programs that the bill encourages would likely still rely on resources in their area if they’re unable to provide their own funds, Woelfel said.

“I would certainly see this bill as a first step,” Woelfel said. “I wanted to find a way to start the conversation and get some uniformity in terms of making sure the children who aren’t being served have a higher likelihood of being served.”

One of the biggest struggles that advocates and nonprofit leaders have faced when it comes to getting food to children is a lack of quality data. The bill aims to fix that by requiring all West Virginia counties collect data on student hunger, as well as available resources.

“It’s so hard to kind of map and keep a current database,” Caseman said. “We’re such a data poor state. It’s hard to map strategies for better policy with the limited resources we have.”

She says the West Virginia Department of Education already collects some of this data, but it can be hard to access.

“We have these systems that are required to collect this data, but it’s not reported publicly,” Caseman said. “Even data that we’re supposed to have, we don’t get to see.”

Nothing in Woelfel’s bill requires the collected data to be shared publicly, but the senator said he believes it would be subject to the state’s Freedom of Information laws.
The West Virginia Department of Education did not immediately respond to questions about the availability of their data. —Ian Karbal

Ellie Heffernan is the community watchdog reporter for Mountain State Spotlight.

Ian Karbal is a Report for America corps member, and the state government watchdog reporter for Mountain State Spotlight.