In true populist form, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has said on numerous occasions that he will not vote for legislation that he cannot explain to his constituents. Such has been his approach to President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act that our senior senator wants to trim by a couple of trillion dollars.
But Manchin has been hard to pin down on specifics of what he wants to see in the final bill, which is convenient. We understand that it is easier politically to be against spending large sums of money than to be for progressive policy prescriptions, especially representing a conservative state. But now, in a recent story in Axios, our senior senator has said that Democrats must pick one of three major policies in the bill – the expanded child tax credit, paid family medical leave or subsidies for child care – and kill the other two.
That is no way to put your fingerprints on a transformative moment in United States legislative history where Congress has the opportunity to lift millions of families out of poverty and have them contribute significantly to a resurgent economy. Nor, it seems, is the senator paying enough attention to what such a bill could do for those constituents of his back home.
If we have learned nothing else from being trapped in a pandemic these past couple of years, it is this: Government programs can and do help prevent poverty and can help ameliorate economic hardship on businesses. U.S. Census Bureau data show that historic levels of federal aid – including the expanded child tax credit (CTC) and earned income tax credit (EITC) – have worked to reduce poverty for millions during a time of significant economic uncertainty.
Back home, according to the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, the CTC reached 346,000, or 93 percent, of all children under 18, including 170,000 who were previously left out of the full value of the credit. This, alone, if extended, would lift 22,000 West Virginia children above the poverty line.
We, as a country, should be embarrassed that with our collective wealth, the United States has a higher child poverty rate than most developed nations. And in West Virginia, the situation is even more acute with about 1 in 5 children living below the poverty line. Of the country’s 50 states, West Virginia’s median household annual income sits next to last – $16,862 below the national average.
The EITC and CTC are proven financial lifelines for low-income individuals and families.
The Biden bill increases the basic amount of the CTC from $2,000 to $3,000 per child and provides an additional $600 for children under age 6, with those amounts paring down above incomes of $112,500 for single parents and $150,000 for couples.
Most helpful, the bill directs the IRS to make payments of the CTC in monthly installments so that struggling families do not have to wait until next year’s tax filing season to benefit. They get the money immediately – and put it to work just as fast.
According to Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy, the CTC expansions alone would reduce child poverty in the United States by 45 percent.
The Biden bill would also make permanent the EITC expansion, which is fashioned for adults who work in low-wage jobs and do not have children. The bill increases the maximum tax credit from $540 to $1,500, extending the income cap for eligibility, and includes younger workers and seniors, too. Doing so would benefit 102,900 West Virginia workers, according to the WV Center for Budget and Policy.
We are not sure why Manchin would elect to sideline paid time off for families to care for a new child, care for a seriously ill family member or deal with a serious illness. Among low-wage workers, who represent a significant piece of the West Virginia workforce, fewer than one in 20 have access to family medical leave. Research shows that such policies result in higher worker productivity and morale and lower employee turnover.
The Biden plan gives workers up to 12 weeks of paid leave. Currently, West Virginia does not require employers to provide this benefit.
Child care provisions in the Biden bill would be a no-cost proposition for West Virginians earning under 75 percent of the state median income – or $36,639 annually. For any West Virginia family with an income of approximately $66,000, the plan would cut child care costs by an estimated $103 per week.
Given that Congress has numerous ways to raise substantial revenue from the wealthy and corporations, there is no reason for Mansion to have the Democrats pick and choose which policy to advance and which to leave behind. If the measures work in concert to provide significant benefit to our country as a whole, then we should move forward with the entire plan in place and stop placing arbitrary holds on programs just because it all seems too expensive.
It is not.
The potential impacts of what is being proposed are breathtaking – greatly reducing poverty for working individuals and families and preventing millions of others from being pushed below the poverty line in the first place.
Now is not the time for Sen. Manchin to be coy and cagey with what he will allow to move forward and what he will stop. But rather, we would suggest our senator get into the game and see what he can do – for his constituents back home.
That should be easy to explain.