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W.Va. spending more on clothes for students

June 16, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - West Virginia is giving an extra $50 to students who might be unable to afford clothing for school.

The state has increased the school clothing allowance to $150 for students born between Sept. 1, 1980, and Aug. 31, 1994, and whose family income is at or below the federal poverty level, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

One of only two state-funded school clothing voucher programs in the country, the West Virginia program gives students money to buy items like pants, shirts, dresses and sewing materials.

The money cannot be used for nonclothing items such as school supplies, hair accessories or jewelry.

"We might wish they weren't, but I think clothes have always been a factor in schools," Berkeley County Board of Education member Berniece Collis said. "Kids look at what each other wear, and when they don't have the designer clothes, they don't feel as good about themselves."

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With the Eastern Panhandle in the midst of an economic boom that has resulted in employment rates that exceed the state average, Collis said the area still has many children living in poverty.

Berkeley County had 9,119 people at or below the poverty level in 1995 and 2,331 children between the ages of 5 and 17 living in families in poverty in 1993, the most recent year for which data was available from the U.S. Census Bureau, according to the West Virginia Bureau of Employment Programs.

Jefferson County had 4,667 people in poverty, with 1,176 children in families in poverty and Morgan County had 1,865 people, including 354 children, according to federal statistics.

The current federal poverty level ranges between $671 gross monthly income for one person to $2,771 gross monthly income for a family of 10, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources spokeswoman Ann Garcelon said.

Most retailers, including larger stores such as Wal-Mart and Kmart, encourage people to use the vouchers, Garcelon said.

The vouchers are automatically mailed to eligible children already receiving cash assistance from the state.

"We won't know how many children will participate this year until we mail out the vouchers in August," Garcelon said.

About 42,000 students statewide received the vouchers last year, she said.

Gov. Cecil Underwood got federal approval last year to add about 10,500 students to the program statewide by expanding it to include students who were at or below the federal poverty level but did not qualify under the state's welfare reform program, according to a release from Underwood's office.

West Virginia began distributing the vouchers in the mid-1970s with a $25 allowance. In the mid-1980s, it increased to $100 and has stayed there since, Underwood said.

Wisconsin is the other state that has a voucher program, Garcelon said.

Vouchers for the upcoming school year will be mailed Aug. 13 to eligible children who are receiving cash assistance from the state at that time.

Families not receiving cash assistance must apply for the clothing vouchers in August at their local Department of Health and Human Resources office.

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