Op-Ed: West Virginia needs the Build Back Better Act to recover and thrive

Joe Manchin

By Ryan Frankenberry, founding state director of the West Virginia Working Families Party.

(This article was originally published at thehill.com)

Last week, the leader of a West Virginia right-wing group wrote a piece in the Hill supporting our senator, Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.), current opposition to the Build Back Better Act, making a number of false claims about how the bill will harm the Mountain State. Here’s the truth: too many working families in our state have been hurt by COVID-19 and a legacy of economic injustice and the Build Back Better Act will help us by lowering costs and investing in our future.

Sen. Manchin’s announcement last month that he will not be supporting the Build Back Better Act, in part because of its extension of child tax credits, drew criticism from many West Virginians. This is unsurprising as West Virginia has the 6th highest child poverty rate, nationally. But, because Manchin and every Republican in Washington continue to block passage of the bill, working families will no longer receive a payment of $250-$300 per child on Jan. 15, putting 50,000 West Virginia children at risk of falling into poverty.   

To further support working families, the Build Back Better Act would provide free universal pre-kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds, four weeks of paid family and medical leave, and lower costs for prescription drugs. The paid and medical leave policies are supported by West Virginia small businesses, which employ nearly half of all workers in the state but often can’t afford leave programs from pricey private insurers.

The Build Back Better Act also includes policies that specifically tackle challenges faced in Appalachian states. While coal has been a historic lifeline for our state, it is a declining industry and our continued overreliance is causing us more harm than good.

The largest coal miner’s union, the United Mine Workers, is urging Manchin to support Build Back Better in part because it would fund payment to workers who contract Black Lung and ensure coal corporations do not obstruct unionization. Build Back Better would also help restore our iconic Appalachian landscapes and clean up our watersheds where coal surfacing mining has cratered 2,300 square miles in the region and polluted our waterways, killing off wildlife.

West Virginia lags behind when it comes to reaping the benefits of clean, affordable and modern energy alternatives. The Build Back Better Act’s clean energy investments wouldn’t just create good, union jobs for West Virginians—they’d also save the average family $500 per year on energy costs. Through job retraining, upgrading the electric grid for safety and reliability, and funding community solar for low-income communities, Build Back Better invests in two of the fastest growing occupations: wind technicians and solar installers.

As noted by my fellow West Virginian who penned the misleading op-ed, the Build Back Better Act is lengthy; that is because it contains many policies that would lower costs and invest in our state. While I can’t summarize all the benefits of the bill here, the length is a testimony to just how far-reaching the benefits of the Build Back Better Act are. On the whole, the Build Back Better Act will save the average family at least $7,400 per year — a figure that grows to $15,000 for single-parent households.

Spending on the wellbeing of our communities and families does not hurt us or increase inflation but rather it protects us from greedy corporations that are price gouging and extracting ever-increasing profits from their customers and workers. During the pandemic, Merchants Distributors increased the cost of eggs to West Virginia by 200 percent leading the state to sue the company, twice. Similarly, despite the availability of affordable, clean energy, Mountaineer Gas will be raising rates by 34.3 percent, increasing profits for the corporate polluter. Not only will the Build Back Better Act reduce costs for daily necessities, it is paid for by raising taxes on giant corporations and the super rich.

The pandemic has created hardship and accentuated economic injustices across the country, but the struggle to find quality work, feed and care for our kids, and keep the lights on is a reality West Virginians were already familiar with. For too long our leaders have abandoned working families and left us to fend against unfair circumstances for ourselves. It is time for West Virginia leaders to embrace a new approach to protecting the communities and the land that we treasure by supporting the Build Back Better Act.

Sen. Manchin, we need you to deliver for West Virginia. Help us out Joe. Vote for Build Back Better.