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Sussman

Caitlin Sussman, a social worker with Health Right in Morgantown, explains to the House Health and Human Resources how cases of HIV increase at a faster rate without intervention during the committee meeting Thursday.

The House of Delegates Health and Human Resources Committee on Thursday passed an amended version of the bill pertaining to syringe exchanges in West Virginia.

Senate Bill 334 establishes a licensing program within the state Department of Health and Human Resources for harm reduction programs operating syringe exchange programs. All new and existing programs will need to apply to the Office for Health Facility Licensure and Certification.

The committee amended the bill to cap fees for the license, and also added a provision to allow programs to bill for Medicaid for harm reduction services.

The penalties for operating a syringe exchange outside of the law are still included, but penalties were changed and liability protection built in to protect workers.

Other aspects of the bill that health officials say will prohibit them from operating remain, including the 1:1 exchange requirement and requiring a West Virginia I.D.

Caitlyn Sussman, a social worker with the Morgantown Health Right harm reduction program, told the committee an I.D. requirement drastically affects programs’ ability to get people in the door. She said many don’t have an I.D., and others just don’t trust providing identification because they are using illegal substances.

When identification was required in Charleston’s program, it resulted in a 50% reduction in people who use the program. Requiring an I.D. also negatively impacted Huntington’s program. Restrictions to harm reduction programs lead to higher chances of HIV outbreaks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are the bridge that gets them to the other side,” Sussman said of harm reduction.

The committee also amended the bill to add back in a requirement of support from the county commission or municipality in which the program will operate. In the case of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department harm reduction program, it would need support from city council. This provision was included in the original Senate version. The Senate also included support from the county sheriff.

Delegate Evan Worrell, R-Cabell, submitted the amendment. He said he wanted to ensure rural areas like his — Barboursville, mainly — had a say in syringe exchange programs starting.

The bill is also referenced to the Judiciary Committee.

In other business, the committee also passed Senate Bill 387, which continues the pilot program for drug testing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, recipients.

The committee amended the bill to extend the program until 2026.

Committee members received a packet of information from the DHHR on TANF recipients and the program. The information included personal information including names of TANF recipients. The packets were collected from members and destroyed, committee chair Delegate Jeff Pack, R-Raleigh, said.

Jeremiah Samples, deputy secretary for DHHR, said he would investigate how the classified information got into the packet.

The drug testing pilot was started in 2017. Since then, 131 positive drug tests have been found but only one person has completed treatment. Those who are found positive must complete a drug treatment program before receiving assistance.

An adult must have a child to be eligible for TANF.

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, attempted to amend the bill to remove marijuana from the substances tested for, but that amendment was rejected. Of the 131 positives, 61 were only positive for marijuana, or 46%. Because cannabis stays in the system longer than other substances, Pushkin said this program basically just screens for cannabis.

“This is an optics bill,” Pushkin said. “If you really want to help people you can fund the Jobs and Hope program we are about to defund tomorrow.”

Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Mongongalia, brought up her neighbor who was on TANF from 2002-10. She was also on TANF for a part of that time. She said she thought she understood the bill until she saw the names on the information sheet.

“Those are your neighbors,” she said. “Are you gong to put in work for the poor folks of West Virginia? Are you going to put in work to give them a little bit of decency? Put in work to take away those questionnaires that we don’t even have to fill out when we put our names on our ballots?”

Reporter Taylor Stuck can be reached at tstuck@hdmediallc.com. Follow her @TaylorStuckHD on Twitter and Facebook.

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