Prior to 2017, West Virginia went through some tough times. Entire industries that were critical to our economy, and in many ways our identity, were under attack. Families were searching for jobs that didn’t exist. And West Virginians were questioning, “How do we move forward? What comes next?”
Well, at the beginning of 2018—after a year of Republican leadership both in Congress and in the White House—there was a palpable change across our state. Our small businesses were feeling optimistic.
Our economy was growing in new and diverse ways. Families were feeling more hopeful, and workers were feeling good about finding jobs. There was a shift—one that made West Virginians hopeful about the future.
That’s why earlier last year, I promised to help build on that momentum, to keep our economy moving in the right direction, and to continue creating new opportunities for our state to succeed. And as I reflect on the year that was, I feel confident that we were able to do that.
Much of the optimism created in 2018 revolved around the tax cuts Congress passed and President Trump signed at the end of 2017. As that law was implemented in 2018, West Virginians and others across the country really began to see the benefits of that historic legislation. Individuals were able to keep more of their hard-earned money, and they were able to use it in whatever way was most helpful to them and their families.
At the same time, businesses were able to give back to their employees, expand, and create jobs.
Moreover, we have been able to build on the success of the tax cuts legislation through a provision I co-sponsored to create “Opportunity Zones,” a program to help drive investment into new and existing companies in communities that need them most. We have been working hard to help West Virginia communities make the most of this new opportunity and will continue to do so.
Of course that’s just one example of how we’ve been working to create more opportunity and more prosperity in the Mountain State and others across the country. Thanks to a range of pro-growth efforts—including rolling back harmful and misguided regulations—the American economy had quite a year.
In fact, our economy is growing at its fastest pace in nearly four years. Unemployment is at an all-time low. Job openings reached a record 7.1 million. Ninety percent of Americans are seeing increased take-home pay.
These are all significant and positive statistics. And while they are certainly important indicators of the advancements we’ve made this year, they’re not the only ones worth noting.
Another of my top priorities, which also goes hand-in-hand with economic growth and development, is connectivity. Through a range of efforts like my Capito Connect program, we’ve made some important advancements in this area as well last year.
One win I was particularly proud to play a role in was a recent announcement that U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue asked me to be a part of, launching the new ReConnect Program. This initiative will help encourage high-speed internet in rural communities, like many of those in West Virginia. As a leader on the Appropriations Committee, I worked hard to secure funding for this program, and it will go a long way in helping states like ours close the digital divide.
I also worked hard to deliver solutions for improving the health and wellbeing of West Virginians.
As we all know, a huge part of that in our state is dealing with the opioid epidemic, something we addressed directly with the comprehensive and bipartisan support for Patients and Communities Act. Not only did I co-sponsor this bill, but I made sure I played a formative role in drafting it.
As a result, the legislation—now law—draws from many of the lessons we’ve learned through our experiences here in West Virginia. In addition to addressing addiction, it focuses on families, prevention, education, and life after recovery. It’s exactly the all-hands-on-deck approach I’ve long advocated for.
I also worked to shine a light on and provide support for other important areas of health that I believe are too often overlooked. For example, the president signed into law my Childhood Cancer STAR Act, which will make an important difference in the lives of children with cancer, childhood cancer survivors, and their families. I also championed the Maternal Mortality Accountability Act, a new law I introduced to help combat the ongoing maternal mortality crisis in our country.
These are just a few examples of what I—along with my colleagues in Congress and the Trump administration—have been working on. And we will continue working on these important areas and so many others—from securing our borders and rebuilding our infrastructure to strengthening our workforce and putting in place strong and qualified judges, like we did when we confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. These are all efforts that I believe will help us build on previous momentum and improve the lives of West Virginians.
I’m fully aware that our work is far from done and there are challenges ahead. Many of the issues facing our state and our nation won’t be solved in a single year. But I think it’s important—especially as we move into 2019—that we reflect on what we’ve accomplished, take stock of what is working, and acknowledge where we need to go from here.
I’m proud to represent this incredible state in the U.S. Senate, and I’m excited to continue working together to move our state forward.
Republican Shelley Moore Capito is the junior U.S. Senator from West Virginia.