House votes to split big agency into Department of Health and Department of Human Resources

Delegates passed a bill that would split West Virginia’s massive agency that deals with its many chronic illnesses as well as its challenges with the well-being of vulnerable citizens.

Matthew Rohrbach

Delegates passed House Bill 4020 on an 83-11 vote today, the last day to advance legislation to the other house. Under the bill, a split between the Department of Health and the Department of Human Resources would be finalized by July 2023.

“I think this is long overdue,” said House Health President Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell.

Those who supported the bill expressed frustration with the state’s handling of pervasive societal problems such as drug addiction or the many foster children. These delegates described the current structure of the Department of Health and Human Resources as being too large to manage effectively.

mike honaker

“He streamlines government,” said delegate Mike Honaker, R-Greenbrier. “The breadth, breadth and depth of this agency greatly diminishes their responses.”

Some members of the Republican supermajority voted against the bill over fears it would lead to increased costs and bureaucratic expansion.

DHHR, with a combined annual budget of $7.5 billion in state and federal money, is West Virginia’s largest agency financially.

Diane Graves

Delegate Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha, spoke passionately in support of the bill. She acknowledged concerns about government growth, but said the agency was already a financial giant.

“It’s too big to handle properly or hold accountable,” Graves said.

“DHHR is a financial avalanche, and it’s growing exponentially. So why do we continue to spend money on it without seeing significant improvement? I will tell you that it is because it is unmanageably large and structural change can actually improve the efficiency of government here.

A financial note prepared by in-house legislative analysts estimates that the additional cost would be closer to $308,000. Most of that is expected to be a salary of $150,000 for the additional cabinet secretary. Current DHHR secretary Bill Crouch earlier told a committee the change could cost more, citing an internal estimate of an additional $6.3 million.

Graves suggested that even if this higher cost is accurate, lawmakers should consider it against the needs of children sent out of state to live: “Is it worth it for you to stop having children? from West Virginia sleeping alone, terrified and alone, hotel rooms — and the only thing we gave them for their comfort was a trash bag full of their clothes? What do you think your voters would prefer? »

Graves cited West Virginia’s struggles with drug addiction. “It’s really hard to say that West Virginia has dealt with the drug crisis in a stellar way,” she said. “Having to channel nearly all of our efforts through a massively inefficient agency doesn’t work.”

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