• Sep 25, 2021

Stop the insanity! As the pandemic surged, elected officials prevented economic crisis and human suffering. Now, many emergency actions will expire. Sadly, too many West Virginia families and children are caught between partisan economic policies and their well-being. These same officials need to act now.

West Virginians need a long-term sustainable plan to improve the economic outlook and well-being. As Congress considers recovery legislation, an opportunity exists to invest in West Virginia families and children by extending the Child Tax Credits (CTC), reducing child hunger, providing year-round meals to children, and granting paid leave.

West Virginia families and children struggled before the pandemic and has since multiplied. Many were affected by loss of jobs, adapting to remote schooling, few childcare options, and limited access to health and social services. For many, it was a return to despair and hopelessness. Stop the insanity by creating a “new” normal! Otherwise, the impact will multiply.

A “new” normal should start with investing in families and children.

First, 448 economists agree, the current CTC stabilized the lives of millions of children including 170,000 West Virginia children. Extension promotes long-term prosperity. Expanding the CTC lifts parents out of poverty by reducing taxes for each qualifying child. Doing so gives families hope, self-determination, and enabling incentives to pursue employment.

Facts trump insane thinking!

According to the Urban Institute, a CTC through 2025 will reduce child poverty from 14.2 to 8.4 percent. 4.3 million fewer children or 40% will not live in poverty. For West Virginia, 93 percent of children or 22,000 children would benefit from an expansion.

Stop the insanity by extending the CTC and strive to eliminate hunger! Eliminating child hunger has positive effects on health and a greater likelihood to be steadily employed later in life.

Third, providing year-round children’s meals provides predictability. Qualified low-income children miss meals in the summer. It is not right when West Virginia’s children rely on free or reduced-price meals in the school year only to get cut off in the summer. During the pandemic, policymakers established the P-EBT program to provide extra grocery benefits for children who missed meals during school closures. Due to this program, every low-income child had access to meals for the first time so they could grow, learn, and thrive. A similar year-round model should be adopted.

Eliminating hunger with year round meals will reduce long-term adverse effects on learning, health, and resilience on West Virginia’s children for the rest of their lives. Lifting children out of poverty with enough to eat are time-tested ways to improve children’s health. That is not insane!

Finally, it is insane for parents to choose between their children’s wellbeing and employment. Paid leave eliminates choosing between caring for families or keeping jobs. Yes, business instability. When children get sick or emergencies happen, West Virginia parents should not have to choose between caregiving, paying bills, and acute unemployment. In fact, most West Virginians don’t have access to unpaid leave.

Paid leave minimizes business instability. For businesses, it minimizes turn-over, hiring, and training costs. It protects workers from health and economic shocks and provides an opportunity for parents to care for a child’s well-being and focus on their duties. The investment will lead to strengthening the next generation workforce and give businesses stable employment.

West Virginia’s families and children have been victims of poor policies and assumptions, misaligned funding priorities, and tax loopholes long before the pandemic. Demand legislators do what is right on economic development and well-being of West Virginians: extend the CTC, reduce hunger, make sure children have summer meals, and provide paid leave.

Embracing the status quo, yielding to special interests, and succumbing to groupthink is insane. Stop the insanity by creating a “new” normal and pass the recovery bill! West Virginia families and children deserve better.

— Douglas E. Anderson is a health administrator, author, and educator. He serves as Chair, Health Work Group, Eastern Panhandle Health and Human Services Collaborative. He passion is to develop integrated community health systems and coach leaders on how to leverage the social determinants of health. His thoughts are his own and do not represent any organization. He lives in Martinsburg. He can be contacted at [email protected].