Someone you know will be helped by Build Back Better
By Kathleen Stoll
Oct 2, 2021
I understand that no one wants to read an op-ed that is just a bunch of bulleted facts. Message gurus tell us that we need to use stories to trigger activity in the parts of our brain that stimulate empathy.
As Congress debates the Build Back Better budget reconciliation package, West Virginians that would benefit are often too busy working, taking care of their kids and their elders, struggling to make ends meet, squeezing their family budgets to pay for health insurance and find affordable child care, to write op-eds.
That doesn’t mean the stories are not out there.
Picture that kid next door who is always bugging you to help in the yard to make a few bucks to help his family. Until Congress passed temporary COVID-19 relief legislation, the federal child tax credit partly or entirely excluded help to families of 170,000 West Virginia children. Build Back Better would make changes in the child tax credit permanent and lift 43% of West Virginia kids out of poverty.
Think about that kid that you know who loves school lunches. One in five kids face hunger in West Virginia. The start of summer vacation coincides with a spike in childhood hunger. Under Build Back Better, the families of 226,000 West Virginia children would receive summer help with groceries when school meal programs are not available.
Next consider my 64-year-old friend who makes about $50,000 a year. That’s not rich or poor in my book. But it puts her just above the healthinsurance.gov premium subsidy cliff. Without Build Back Better, she pays $1,167 per month in health insurance premiums (about $14,000 a year). With Build Back Better, she would pay $368 — saving more than $8,300 in 2021. That’s the difference between saving or not saving for retirement.
Turn to someone perhaps a little older with a disability or chronic illness. West Virginia is one of the oldest populations in the nation (ranked at third oldest), creating an increasing burden on the younger population to provide care.
I have a family member who needs a wheelchair and has some mental decline. But she wants to enjoy every day. For her, that means living at home rather than at a nursing home. Maybe you have an older relative in the same situation, and like me, you can’t afford to stay at home from work to help. My friend needs a home care worker she can rely on to assist her.
But there is a shortage of home care workers in our state. The median hourly wage for home health aides in West Virginia is $9.97. Nearly one in four of West Virginia’s home care workers live in poverty. Build Back Better would expand investments in this workforce by raising wages and offering training — that would grow the supply of workers.
A friend of mine was laid off from his truck-driving job. For families struggling to pay the rent between jobs, Build Back Better expands housing vouchers that would assist 4,000 households in West Virginia, or 8,000 people. This would include 3,000 children under 18, and 2,000 people with disabilities.
I honestly don’t know a family in West Virginia without a story of at least one family member struggling with drug addiction. The fallout is often incarceration from a drug offense or related crime. And other young folks get in trouble with the law from just making a youthful bad judgement call. But in West Virginia, we believe you serve your time and get a second chance. Build Back Better would allow people reentering the community to receive Medicaid for 30 days – for a healthy transition and, if needed, to continue addiction treatment.
We all know parents struggling to balance work and family. Build Back Better would save working West Virginia families an average of $103 a week on childcare costs. In West Virginia, 59% of workers don’t have paid leave. Build Back Better would allow an estimated 88,050 more people to take paid leave each year to care of themselves and loved ones.
The missing story is the fate of these and other parts of Build Back Better. Will Congress vote to help working families? The ending will be written by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Kathleen Stoll serves as the Policy Director for West Virginians for Affordable Health Care (wvahc.org) and operates a policy and economic consulting business, Kat Consulting.