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West Virginia should explore how other states use grants

June 13, 2000

In a state plagued with high unemployment, you'd think officials could use hundreds of millions of federal dollars to help put needy families to work. But a top U.S. official said Monday that as of late 1999, West Virginia was still holding onto $160 million of a $330 million grant it had been awarded as part of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

That's unacceptable, because while the Eastern Panhandle may be experiencing near-record low jobless rates, West Virginia's interior is a dire need of employment opportunities.

What might seem a prudent decision not to spend money too quickly doesn't look as good when compared to other states' track records. Olivia Golden, administrator of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said that other states have typically held onto about 6 percent of the cash they've been awarded. In West Virginia, the figure has been closer to 50 percent.

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At present, the state has $125 million in reserve, and about two years to put it to work before Congress is scheduled to review the program, Golden said. The possibilities include a Congressional order to return the unspent dollars, or worse, the shutoff of any future grants for that purpose.

Now that the problem has been identified, we hope the feds don't content themselves with just pointing it out. They need to help their West Virginia counterparts analyze what other states are doing, pick out what seems like the program which can best be duplicated without a lot of effort - and put it into practice.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency among government officials - and if truth be told, among people in general - to see their problems as something unique, requiring a custom-crafted fix. But things are rarely that difficult. If West Virginia can get a little help from Uncle Sam, state officials can probably duplicate another state's successes long before that program review is due.

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