Legislation

Should one millionaire senator really be able to send millions of children back into poverty?

As Congress wraps up its long list of business before the end of the year, it couldn’t be clearer that we’re at a turning point—not only for President Joe Biden’s agenda, but also for tens of millions of children and families.

Nearly 90% of U.S. children have benefited from the enhanced child tax credit, passed by Democrats last spring as part of the American Rescue Plan. That credit has meant monthly payments of up to $300 per child going directly into their parents’ bank accounts for essentials like food, housing, school supplies, and diapers.

30% decrease in poverty

The program has been a stunning success. In October 2021, these payments alone kept 3.6 million children out of poverty—decreasing child poverty by nearly 30% compared with October 2020.

Unfortunately, that credit expires this month. Democrats had planned to renew it for a year as part of the Build Back Better Act. But with conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin now joining all 50 Republicans opposing it, it may not be renewed at all. 

“The tax relief, predictable every month, means that my child has food, a roof, electricity, and heat,”


— West Virginia mother Kristen Olsen

After months of tortuous negotiations, in which the bill was pared back again and again to Manchin’s specifications, the West Virginia senator told Fox News recently that he opposed it.

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The effects of Manchin’s opposition will be devastating: Experts estimate it will plunge up to 10 million kids back into poverty, or even deeper into it. It will strain millions of middle-class families as well—altogether, 65 million children and their families will lose benefits.

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Should one multimillionaire senator really get to send millions of children back into poverty? 

West Virginia is a poor state

Manchin’s own state would be hard-hit if he does. West Virginia ranks 46th out 50 states with regard to the economic well-being of its children. The enhanced child tax credit has reached 93% of West Virginia’s children, nearly half of whom previously were too poor to receive the full tax credit.

“The tax relief, predictable every month, means that my child has food, a roof, electricity, and heat,” West Virginia mother Kristen Olsen told me. “It means I have less stress and can be a better mother. It means I can stay at my job as an educator because I can afford the child care now.”

But the child tax credit is just the tip of the iceberg. The Democrats’ American Rescue Plan also expanded the earned income tax credit, which helps another 100,000 low-income workers in West Virginia who aren’t raising kids. It too will expire without Manchin’s vote for the Build Back Better Act.

Paid family and sick leaves is another highly popular provision that Manchin’s threatened “no” vote will kill. This provision would provide millions of workers four weeks of paid leave to take care of themselves or a family member if they fall ill. Currently, less than 10% of low-income workers receive any kind of paid leave.

Manchin says he’s worried passing the Build Back Better Act now would speed up inflation. But 17 Nobel-winning economists have testified that it wouldn’t.

Combat inflation

On the contrary, the bill will help millions of families afford rising prices at the pump, at the grocery store, and for home heating. And the bill’s other provisions—like making sure most families won’t pay more than 7% of their income on child care, defraying the costs of care for elderly or disabled loved ones, and capping the cost of insulin and prescription drugs for seniors—will all combat inflation.

Not only are all of these provisions paid for, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, but the revenue raisers in the Build Back Better Act would actually lower the deficit in the long run, too. These revenues come only from taxpayers who are multimillionaires—like Manchin and his donors. 

In fact, Manchin himself helped kill additional revenue raisers that would have fairly taxed the ultrarich, like the very popular billionaires tax, which alone would have raised over $550 billion. And just this December, Manchin had no problem voting for the massive $778 billion military- spending bill—which is four times larger than the annual cost of the Build Back Better proposal.

Grassroots movements like The Poor People’s Campaign, led by the Rev. Drs. William Barber II and Liz Theoharis, have been demonstrating outside Manchin’s offices in Washington and West Virginia. Their rallying cry was the old Pete Seeger song, “Which Side Are You On?”

If Manchin sticks with his “no” vote, he’ll have answered that question clearly—and hung millions of struggling families out to dry.

Karen Dolan directs the Criminalization of Race and Poverty Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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