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Child poverty campaign builds momentum

AFSC's Rick Wilson speaks during the 2014 Our Children Our Future Child Poverty Forum in Charleston, WV. Photo: Bryan Vana / AFSC

Our Children Our Future, West Virginia’s campaign to end child poverty, is gearing up for the 2015 legislative session. This coalition of coalitions, of which AFSC is an active member, has won over a dozen policy victories over the last two years, including prison reform, Medicaid expansion, raising the minimum wage, and restoring funding for family programs. While most of these victories take place at the capitol in Charleston during the 60 day legislative sessions that typically last from January to March, the campaign works statewide and year-round to build momentum.

This summer, the campaign held four regional workshops in different parts of the state, each of which drew over 100 participants. These included presentations by AFSC WV Economic Justice Project director Rick Wilson on how policy change happens. In September, over 400 people attended a policy symposium in Charleston where groups refined policy proposals for the coming year. Speakers included state officials, including Senate President Jeff Kessler, House Speaker Tim Miley, a representative of Gov. Tomblin, and several legislators. During October, the campaign held candidate forums around the state.

Young people from the AFSC Appalachian Center for Equality (ACE), directed by Lida Shepherd, have been active in the program throughout the year and have been instrumental in several victories. The campaign honored young people from ACE’s Logan program with a special award for civic engagement in November. The students have organized forums, participated in workshops, met with legislators, and testified on issues in Logan, at the capitol and around the state.

In December, the campaign voted on its top ten priorities for the 2015 legislative session. The top five include protecting funding streams for programs that protect children and families, expanding early childhood education, juvenile justice reform, protecting Medicaid and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), and protecting drinking water. These will be advocated for at the capitol and at regional forums around the state. Other issues that gained support included raising the tobacco tax, stopping meth labs, preventing childhood sexual assault and providing earned sick days for workers. The 2015 legislative session convenes on January 14, 2015.

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