Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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May 15

The Herald-Dispatch says boys and girls Scouting together reflects today's society:

When the Boy Scouts of America announced last fall its plans to begin allowing girls into the program, it seemed like a natural progression for the organization.

Clubs in general struggle with membership in a society of increasingly over-scheduled families and youth. And, as Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh said at the time, "the values of Scouting — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example — are important for both young men and women."

As the change was implemented, the value of the move truly began to show itself. Families were seeing their schedules become more streamlined, they told The Herald-Dispatch's Dave Lavender for a recent report. Sisters who had been relegated to the sidelines at scouting events as "tagalongs" now had the opportunity not only to learn and participate, but also to compete and be rewarded for their hard work.

It was perplexing, then, to read and hear the outcry from those who believe the Boy Scouts should still be boys-only — that the changes being implemented were only a show of being "politically correct," or a power grab at what the Girl Scouts have built. But the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts remain different enough that there seems to be a solid future for both.

While the Girl Scouts organization does still exist to provide a number of skills and lessons to young females, it's a different scouting curriculum, with a focus on more soft skills, such as confidence and self-awareness. Why penalize girls who have a desire to learn lifelong outdoor skills instead?

The desire for more hands-on scouting opportunities for girls is nothing new. In 1910, Camp Fire Girls was founded by Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick and his wife, Charlotte, who believed girls deserved the outdoor learning experiences that boys had and wanted to help "guide young people on their journey to self-discovery," according to the organization's website.

The Scouts BSA, as it will now be known, has a much larger nationwide footprint than Camp Fire, and is an organization to which local families already have ties.

Already, Venturers, Explorers, and other Scouting sub-groups had been set up to include both boys and girls, who all have come together at the massive Summit Bechtel Reserve in Glen Jean, West Virginia, for a wide array of high-adventure activities designed for all.

If individual units want to remain single-gender, they will have the ability to do so. In Huntington, a program at an area community center has requested to stay boys-only, according to local leaders, because it is the only boys' program that is brought into that facility.

And Cub Scout "dens," as they are referred to, will be single-gender, allowing the organization "to maintain the integrity of the single-gender model while also meeting the needs of today's families," the Boy Scouts of America said in a press release explaining the changes.

"Exploring and Venturing have been co-ed for years, so the idea that we are moving into co-ed scouting is not exactly true - we are just extending it to a younger group of participants," Carl Sullivan, scout executive for the local Adena District, told The Herald-Dispatch.

Boys and girls already co-mingle in classrooms, on the T-ball and soccer fields, in church youth groups and at a wide variety of other camps and clubs. They'll study together in college and work together in all manner of professional settings. Having a scouting setup that reflects that reality, then, can only benefit the children as they learn and grow together through Scouting.

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

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May 15

Charleston Gazette-Mail says the U.S. farm bill means less food and opportunity for West Virginia:

The next threat to people who struggle to buy enough groceries is the farm bill being considered this week in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In addition to provisions for agriculture businesses, the farm bill is where Congress puts funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. This year, House Republicans want to cut food assistance going to people and increase the amount spent on administration, like this:

Over 10 years, the bill would cut SNAP by $23.1 billion. The bill would also add $5.3 billion, plus another $2.8 billion for grants to food charities. But those improvements would be more than eaten up by $15 billion in administrative costs and work programs, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

"Feeding America has called shenanigans on this," said Seth DiStefano of the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy. An increase in funding to groups like Feeding America won't make up for what is taken from individuals.

Funding for work programs is great, but the bill offers only about $30 a month for some recipients. Programs that lead to demonstrable skills and gainful employment run several thousands of dollars for each recipient, still a bargain when done right, but not what is in this bill.

Work requirements to keep qualifying for SNAP will put needy people off the program, even if they are working in some cases. The current bill follows the ideological but mistaken belief that people who need help buying groceries aren't already working. Many are. Requiring monthly trips to a state welfare office to prove it could interfere with jobs, penalize those who rely on seasonal work and shift SNAP spending from putting food on tables to covering the cost of administration.

It didn't work as planned in West Virginia, and national experts expect it will stress families and food charities on a larger scale, as well. Also, fail to comply and you lose benefits for a year. Fail a second time and you are disqualified for three years.

States now have some flexibility to make categories of people eligible. If you are poor enough to qualify for help with your heating bill, for example, West Virginia can choose to say you are automatically eligible for help with food, too. That makes government more efficient and gets help to people who need it. This bill would give states less flexibility.

In West Virginia, with high proportions of people struggling to find gainful employment and fixed-income seniors, cutting food benefits is bad for everyone.

AARP reports that, of 174,632 households in West Virginia receiving SNAP benefits in 2016, 20 percent had at least one member age 50 to 59. Another 20 percent were households with at least one member over age 60. More than half of these households are people living alone.

The bill before the House this week has the potential to hurt places like West Virginia the most. The Daily Yonder found that rural and small metro areas have the highest concentrations of SNAP recipients.

Of the 100 highest counties, five are in West Virginia: Clay, 48.3 percent; McDowell, 44.5; Mingo, 42.4, Webster, 33.5; Lincoln, 33.

Of course, no one wants his county or state on such a list. But the way off the list is not to stop helping people who need groceries. The way off is to not punish people for not getting jobs that don't exist anymore. The way off is to nurture more robust local economies and to nurture people with help for basic needs in the meantime. Individuals would rather not be on the list either.

Whether at the federal, state or neighborhood level, you cannot help someone by kicking supports out from under them, particularly when their household budgets are tight and their employment status is fragile.

Making food assistance harder to get will harm individuals and their communities already struggling to maintain every ember of economic spark they have left. Cutting efficient food assistance like SNAP will cost more in the long run, and make communities meaner places, in every way.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com

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May 16

The Inter-Mountain on the state's Public Employee Insurance Agency:

Money is the key challenge facing West Virginia's Public Employee Insurance Agency. With health care costs increasing continually, neither of the two primary options for dealing with the dilemma seems appealing.

One option is providing more taxpayers' money to subsidize the PEIA. Another is reducing benefits for PEIA beneficiaries and/or requiring them to pay higher health insurance premiums.

But there are other issues, as members of a task force formed by Gov. Jim Justice to address the PEIA problem are learning. One of them is paying for care from out-of-state providers.

Task force members are holding public meetings throughout the state. During one held Saturday in Weirton, some of those in attendance complained about obtaining care outside West Virginia.

Like many health insurance programs, the PEIA uses a "network" system to control costs. In essence, it requires that most treatment be obtained from providers in the network.

But on Saturday, some of those at the public meeting complained that even if out-of-state providers are in the network, using them can cost PEIA clients more than if they chose in-state health care professionals. Sometimes, out-of-state treatment is not covered by the PEIA at all, task force members were told.

PEIA officials should be looking into the situation. If out-of-state providers are listed on the PEIA's network, it would seem beneficiaries should not pay a penalty for using them. And if some specialists are not covered, perhaps they should be added to the network.

Cost is the controlling factor, of course. It may be that in some situations, West Virginia PEIA clients should be required to pay more for certain treatment. Someone has to cover the bottom line, after all.

But if this is a situation in which, all other things being equal, out-of-state providers and those who need their help are being discriminated against, the rules should be changed.

Online: http://www.theintermountain.com