MASON COUNTY — Strategies to combat child poverty in Appalachia were the focus of the “Our Children, Our Future” campaign community meeting, held in Point Pleasant this past week.
Representatives from various organizations were present, among them the Mason County homeless shelter and Mountain State Healthy Families.
Carey Jo Grace, central and western West Virginia campaign organizer, outlined the 2013 platform for those gathered, including initiatives for providing health to 120,000+ working families, family violence prevention, and stopping child care cuts.
“The campaign was able to protect these subsidies,” said Grace.
Another program on this year’s platform was a movement toward healthy foods in school, Grace said.
“Children can’t learn if they don’t eat, and we want to make sure that no kid ever goes hungry at school,” Grace said. “We expect them to be there for several hours, so we need to make sure they have sufficient fuel.”
The healthy foods program was expanded this year, Grace added, as part of the Feed to Achieve Act.
Grace went on to talk about the 2014 campaign proposals, which have been developed after collaborations between lawmakers, families, advocates, experts, and community leaders. A statewide vote will take place on December 13, to decide the final items for inclusion in 2014’s platform.
The 2014 proposals remain a work in progress, and include ideas for reducing the incidence of teen pregnancy, in-home education programs, after-school programs, workforce development, increasing the minimum wage, community revitalization and substance abuse treatment.
Grace asked members of the Mason County arm of the “Our Children, Our Future” campaign to discuss those items on the proposal list that seemed the most vital to this community.
John Machir of Mountain State Healthy Families said that community revitalization is an essential part of ending child poverty in Mason County; the improvement of job and educational opportunities having a direct effect on the lives of children. But, he said, many businesses are discouraged from settling in settling in the county because of taxes and regulations in West Virginia, that do not exist just across the river in Ohio. Tax and regulatory reform, he said, will most likely have to come before revitalization is possible.
Several members of the group raised a topic not yet part of the 2014 list of proposals: public transportation. Transportation is an issue for many Mason County families; the lack of reliable transportation creates barriers to working and seeking further education or training.
Grace also talked about the impact on West Virginia families of the Affordable Care Act, pointing out that people previously ineligible for free or subsidized healthcare will now be eligible. She asked that those attending who work directly with families help those families to understand and benefit from the revised income guidelines.
Grace asked that the “Our Children, Our Future” campaign members continue to discuss ways to end child poverty and enrich the local community, joining with existing issues on the ballot in December, or bringing new issues — such as public transportation — to the ballot.