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In many campaign and other speeches, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has attributed his good character and penchant for public service to his Italian-Catholic immigrant grandparents, especially Mama Kay.

He speaks proudly of their generosity, and how they never turned away a neighbor or a stranger in need. He beams in saying that Mama Kay always set the extra plate, pulled out the extra blanket or packed up food from her pantry, never asking if the needy person was worthy of help.

Manchin has said that Papa Joe would help out people who got on the wrong side of the law. Farmington was fortunate that the Manchin family chose West Virginia as their new home and helped build a community faithful to the value that the public good requires that we each do our part.

Some days ago, a few audacious West Virginia women got Manchin’s attention when they surrounded his houseboat in Washington, D.C., for five days in kayaks and rafts.

In a subsequent meeting with Manchin, they asked him to support the Build Back Better Act, especially those provisions that would raise children out of poverty — including funds for preschool and child care, and an extension of the child tax credit.

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The senator told his marina visitors that he had not heard much from West Virginians on these issues and challenged them to send him real stories to make the case that policies in Build Back Better would help West Virginia families. In opposing some of the measures in the plan, Manchin told the press that he was concerned about creating an “entitlement society” and a “dependency culture.”

All of us who hope to change Manchin’s mind are scrambling to send him stories. But he has already heard these stories many times.

My question is: What would Mama Kay say? Most assuredly, Mama Kay would not ask if a child deserves safe housing, an adequate diet, access to health care, a quality education and child care, the services that the act would secure.

Mama Kay would ask, “What can I and my community do to give this child a chance at a safe and healthy future?” That is what the Build Back Better Act will accomplish.

I wish Manchin would remember his upbringing, honor his namesake and begin to channel more of Mama Kay and his Farmington roots, instead of espousing the values of his wealthy neighbors at the marina.

Betty Justice lives in Charleston.

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