West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel on food stamps:
There has been much discussion at the federal level about the difficulty in feeding kids a healthy diet on a limited income — particularly in regions labeled “food deserts.” For many families, it is more affordable to feed kids what amounts to junk food; and a trip to a large grocery store is another expense.
Here in West Virginia, there are 40,000 participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children program, which is available to women, children and families at up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level. Important changes to the program might make a difference for the health of some of those children.
The list of approved foods for WIC now includes yogurt, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, whole wheat pasta, corn tortillas, more options for whole wheat tortillas, whole grain rice and organic baby food. There are also now more package sizes available for cheese, juice, bread and buns. Those changes took effect Oct. 1, and also include an increase from the previous $8 monthly allotment for fruits and vegetables for kids . to $9.
Stop and think about that for a moment — $9 worth of fruits and vegetables to last a full month, for kids whose families participate in the program. In fact, the WIC Approved Foods list in West Virginia is very specific — it spells out one category of food that is available only to women who are fully breastfeeding their children, for example.
West Virginia University research shows nearly 30 percent of West Virginians live in areas that have low or extremely low access to adequate quality and fresh foods. WIC benefits are accepted at 265 grocery stores in the Mountain State, but access is still sometimes a problem.
Revisions to the program that expand options and encourage better nutritional habits may mean healthier kids — and that is good news for us all.
The Intelligencer Wheeling News-Register on e-cigarette sales to juveniles:
Among the more than 1,100 businesses throughout the country being warned by the Food and Drug Administration to stop selling e-cigarettes to minors are 14 in West Virginia. Do the math: That represents a far higher per capita rate than the national average.
Working with local law enforcement agencies, the FDA conducted a massive sting operation earlier this year. Juveniles, accompanied by adults, were sent to stores in attempts to buy e-cigarettes. They were successful in an alarming number of attempts.
Though the FDA has not provided the names and locations of stores caught in the sting, local residents can have some confidence it did not happen here. On a regular basis, local law enforcement uses a similar method to catch retailers selling tobacco products to youngsters. It is rare that an offender is reported.
Still, the FDA’s success at 14 Mountain State businesses is both distressing and annoying. Here’s hoping local law enforcement agencies involved crack down more severely than the FDA.
It has been pointed out that e-cigarettes can be a good thing for some adults who already smoke and are trying to kick the habit.
But for juveniles who think there is no harm in e-cigarettes, a steady supply of them can lead to use of real cigarettes. Is it a problem? Yes. As many as 2.1 million minors in the United States use e-cigarettes, according to the FDA.
Adding to the peril is the fact some e-cigarette manufacturers distribute all sorts of flavors, including cotton candy and bubble gum. That can make it easier for some youngsters to take up the tobacco habit.
Store owners and clerks should be under no illusion: Sale of any form of tobacco, including e-cigarettes, to those under 18 is illegal in West Virginia.
Our state already has one of the highest percentages of tobacco users in the nation. Allowing unscrupulous retailers to risk getting a whole new generation hooked through e-cigarettes is simply unacceptable.
The Inter-Mountain of Elkins on the Public Employees Insurance Agency:
“Fix the PEIA,” demanded thousands of West Virginia public school employees who stayed off work for nearly two weeks earlier this year.
Well, it seems the Public Employees Insurance Agency indeed is “fixed” — for now.
Tens of thousands of active and retired public employees and their families rely on the PEIA for health insurance. Spiraling health care costs for several years have made it difficult for PEIA officials to make ends meet. They have resorted to premium increases and benefit limits.
But in August, PEIA Director Ted Cheatham reported the program had a $31 million surplus for the fiscal year that ended June 30. Another $70 million surplus is expected for the current year. That could mean it will be two years before the PEIA has to ask legislators for more taxpayers’ money in addition to the $400 million to $500 million a year it already gets.
There was more good news last week. Revenue has been flowing into state coffers during the past three months at a much greater rate than had been expected. That prompted Gov. Jim Justice to announce he will ask legislators to add $100 million to the normal PEIA appropriation next year.
Fifty million dollars a year seems to be the magic number for the PEIA. For several months, a task force created by Justice has been debating how to “fix” the program to the point premium increases and benefit cuts are not needed. An additional $50 million a year would do it, it has been said.
At that rate, the $100 million PEIA surplus plus the $100 million Justice wants could — emphasis on could — keep the program on an even keel for four years.
But health care costs will continue increasing. State revenue may not remain at the current high rates.
The PEIA is only repaired temporarily. A permanent “fix” will require more action by the governor, legislators and PEIA officials.
Justice’s task force has been a disappointment. The extent of its activity seems to have been to tell lawmakers they need to come up with an additional $50 million a year for the PEIA. Ways to reduce the program’s costs seem to have been an afterthought, if even that.
Meanwhile, the governor seems to have something more decisive in mind. He has even suggested privatizing the program might be a possibility.
Justice is right. Real solutions for the PEIA need to be found. Until that happens, there has been no “fix.”