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West Virginia editorial roundup

December 27, 2018

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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Dec. 25

The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington on a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program initiative:

A report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention underscored that a significant health problem among American adults — obesity — is not necessarily getting any better.

Based on a 2015-16 health survey of more than 5,000 U.S. adults that measures height and weight, the CDC found that Americans are not getting any taller, but they continue to grow fatter. The report stated that the average U.S. adult is overweight and just a few pounds from obese, thanks to average weight increases in all demographic groups. That, of course, is bad news for Americans’ health, because extra weight on an individual contributes to a variety of health problems, such as heart disease.

Because adults as a whole don’t seem to be making any progress to reverse this collective weight gain, many health experts say it is vital to work toward impressing upon children the value of eating healthy foods and getting plenty of exercise. The idea is that hopefully the coming generations of adults will do a better job of maintaining healthy weights.

With that in mind, it’s encouraging to learn how an initiative related to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, appears to be making an impression on children. SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program, provides roughly 40 million low-income Americans nutrition assistance.

The new twist is called the SNAP Stretch, which is aimed at encouraging SNAP recipients to buy more fresh and local fruits and vegetables. For every SNAP dollar spent at a participating farmers market, the shopper will receive a dollar back to spend on fresh produce. If the shopper has a child, the child also receives equivalent coupons only the child can spend in the market.

The initiative was born in 2017 as the West Virginia University Extension Office tried to find a way to encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables. The office brought farmers markets to schools that year, giving students $4 coupons to spend on locally grown fruits and veggies. Parents surveyed later said their children ate almost all of the food they bought.

That children felt compelled to consume the healthy foods they had, in a sense, invested in forming the basis for providing them extra incentive to “purchase” the fruits and vegetables. Spencer Moss, executive director of the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition, said the child coupon portion of the program is what sets it apart from others in the country.

Currently, there are 19 farmers markets in 15 West Virginia counties participating in the SNAP Stretch program. The Wild Ramp in Huntington is the only one in Cabell County.

SNAP Stretch is supported by the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition, WVU Extension SNAP Education, the West Virginia Farmers Market Association and the USDA Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program. It is funded through a $100,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and local philanthropic organizations.

While this program alone won’t by itself won’t eliminate obesity, the model holds promise of setting many children on a healthier nutrition path. The early results indicate it’s a program worth continued investment both by government agencies and charitable organizations.

Online: http://www.herald-dispatch.com/

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Dec. 24

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel on West Virginia losing a significant number of residents:

Mountain State officials have quite a challenge ahead as they must look for ways to stop the bleeding when it comes to our population numbers. Again this year — from July 1, 2017 to July 1, 2018 — the state lost a significant number of residents. There are 11,216 fewer West Virginians than there were in the summer or 2017. And that is simply the latest decline in a long series. The year before, West Virginia lost 12,780. It is one of only two states (Michigan is the other) to have lost population over the last decade.

John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University, calls it a “long-running trend,” ″nothing new.”

The problem is two-fold: more people are dying here than are being born; and there are significantly more people choosing to leave the state than choosing to move here. It is often those who are the best potential members of a workforce who are forced to leave. That creates a third problem, which feeds the cycle.

“Population growth is a part of making the state attractive to potential businesses,” Deskins told another news outlet. “If you see an area of population decline, is a business going to come there? A business has to be confident it’s going to find the workers it needs before it locates in an area.

In addition to looking for legislative means to make the state more attractive to employers, lawmakers must take seriously the need to tackle the challenge of population loss.

“We have to have positive net migration even just to stay even because of the natural population decline,” Deskins said.

Some incentives do exist of course, but could there be others? What challenges must be overcome? Might it be OK to convince some of those employers to bring part of their workforce with them (and help them put down roots), before they grow with workers already available in West Virginia?

It is a piece of the puzzle that must be considered as part of the solution to nearly every challenge the Mountain State faces.

There are plenty of West Virginians at heart who are here right now, having come home for the holidays. Let’s ask them what it would take to get them to come back. Maybe the answers are simpler than we imagine. But they are answers we MUST find.

Online: http://www.newsandsentinel.com/

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Dec. 23

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph on a tax on Social Security income:

Republican and Democratic lawmakers in West Virginia may have finally found something they can agree on.

West Virginia is one of only 13 states that tax a portion of Social Security income, and that’s a practice local lawmakers would like to end. Delegate Ed Evans, a Democrat whose legislative district includes much of McDowell County and parts of Mercer County, is leading the charge to help retirees who are burdened by the tax on Social Security income.

“While I was on the campaign trail that was one of the things I heard we need to do for our retirees,” Evans said, adding that retirees see few cost of living (COLA) raises. “This would be an instant COLA. We need to take care of those now retired.”

Evans said a lot of residents in the state are retired and on fixed incomes. This includes many of his constituents in McDowell and Mercer counties.

“That is something we can do to help,” Evans said. “It might be the difference in paying the electric bill.”

Many Republicans appear to be in agreement with Evans about the need to eliminate the tax on Social Security income.

Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, said eliminating the tax has been on the agenda for some time, but the budget has in the past been too tight to do away with the tax, which brings in about $21 million a year in revenue to the state.

Shott said he may be more in favor of phasing in the elimination rather than in “one fell swoop.”

“A lot depends on what our budget is,” Shott said of the projected revenue for the state. “We are doing well so far but that could change.”

Senator Chandler Swope, R-6th District, says it’s a matter of eliminating as many taxes as possible when new revenue is coming in to replace it as a way to promote the state as a place to move to and do business in. He points out that none of West Virginia’s contiguous states has the tax on Social Security benefits.

“I believe a portion of future revenue growth should be dedicated to tax reductions,” Swope said. “Many of my colleagues feel the same way.”

Del. Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, also supports eliminating the tax.

According to Mark Muchow, Deputy Cabinet Secretary for the state Department of Revenue, West Virginia has a high percentage of residents who are retired. He says in 2016, total Social Security benefit payments (not including Supplemental Security Income benefits or SSI) to West Virginia residents totaled nearly $7 billion, or more than 10.3 percent of total state personal income. The formula for how much of that income is taxed in the state depends on the amount taxed by the federal government, he said, which could be up to 50 percent or as high as 85 percent, depending on a person’s other income.

“Slightly more than $1.5 billion or 22 percent of total Social Security benefits ($7 billion) received by West Virginia residents were subject to federal income tax in tax year 2016,” Muchow said.

How much of that income is taxed by the state also depends on total income, with the taxable portion seeing a levy of anywhere from 3 percent to 6.5 percent. Some residents may be exempt all together. The $21 million revenue the state receives from the tax on Social Security benefits is only 1.4 percent of the $1.5 billion taxable income on the federal level.

Legislators convene in Charleston on Jan. 9 to start the 2019 legislative session.

If they are looking for an area of bipartisan agreement, eliminating — or at least phasing out the state tax on Social Security income over a period of time — could be a good starting point.

Doing so would help retirees across our region, who could use the extra income to help meet other expenses each month.

Online: https://www.bdtonline.com/

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