WV MetroNews – – By Shauna Johnson —
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A divergence in economic recovery during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is what the new executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy said analysts with her organization have been tracking in recent weeks.
“Higher income folks have almost completely recovered jobs in West Virginia, but it’s low-wage workers who are still really feeling the brunt of the crisis,” said Kelly Allen.
After serving as the WVCBP’s interim director since July, Allen’s permanent hire for the director position was announced this week as the pandemic continues to dominate the organization’s state budget and tax policy work.
On Tuesday, the Center on Budget and Policy released a call for targeted use of West Virginia’s remaining federal CARES Act funding which must be spent on COVID-19 initiatives before the end of 2020.
The group’s priorities included direct housing and utility assistance; funding for child nutrition and related rural transportation costs; additional relief checks and financial support for workers to potentially help with expenditures like covering hazard pay or contact tracer costs.
Going forward, “My job is to maintain our reputation for providing rigorous, reliable analysis of public policy proposals and to advocate for those policies to look out for the needs of folks who aren’t always at the table when decisions are being made,” Allen said.
A native of Marion County, Allen first joined the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy in 2018 as a policy outreach coordinator before becoming director of policy engagement in 2019 and deputy director in January of this year.
She previously worked with the West Virginia Healthy Start Navigator Project which connected West Virginia residents with health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act and via the Medicaid expansion.
In the pandemic, “I think there’s a renewed interest in things like paid family and medical leave, paid sick leave, opportunities for health care that aren’t tied to one’s job,” Allen said.
“I think the pandemic has really kind of revealed the importance of some policies that we’ve been talking about for a long time.”
Ahead is the 2021 Regular Legislative Session for members of the West Virginia Legislature.
“It could be a challenging budget year if jobs don’t recover quickly and we think it’s going to be months or even years before everybody gets back to work,” Allen said.
“So I think we really want to focus on protecting public services like education and health care, child care that are so important to people.”
Allen had been interim director since earlier this following the departure of Ted Boettner, the founding executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.
Boettner now works as a senior researcher at the Ohio River Valley Institute.