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As the pandemic surged last year, 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 who acted then need to act now.

West Virginians need a long-term sustainable plan to improve their 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 credit, reducing child hunger, providing year-round meals to children and granting paid leave.

This would be a new, better normal. In fact, returning to “normal” as it existed before the pandemic would be insane.

West Virginia families and children struggled then, and COVID-19 has only multiplied these struggles.

Many were affected by loss of jobs, adapting to remote schooling, few child care 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 effects will be much worse.

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

First, hundreds of economists agree, the current child tax credit stabilized the lives of millions of children, including 170,000 West Virginia children. Extension promotes long-term prosperity. Expanding the child tax credit 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 beat insane thinking.

According to the Urban Institute, a child tax credit through 2025 will reduce child poverty from 14.2% to 8.4%, meaning 4.3 million fewer children will not live in poverty. For West Virginia, 93% of children would benefit from an expansion, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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We also must strive to eliminate child hunger. The pandemic made this long-standing crisis worse. It is not an insane idea when the current child tax credit resulted in less food insecurity and the ability to buy school supplies, clothes and pay utility bills. According to the U.S. Census’ analysis and survey, food insecurity ranged from 11.8% to 20% percent in the United States. West Virginia ranked seventh-highest in the nation for households reporting food scarcity.

Eliminating child hunger has positive effects on health and provides a greater likelihood to be steadily employed later in life.

Providing children’s meals year-round 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. Because of 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 is a time-tested way to improve children’s health.

Finally, it is insane for parents to have to choose between their children’s well-being and employment.

Paid leave eliminates choosing between caring for families or keeping jobs. When children get sick or emergencies happen, West Virginia parents should not have to choose between care-giving, paying bills and acute unemployment. In fact, most West Virginians don’t have access to leave at their workplace.

Paid leave minimizes business instability. For businesses, it minimizes turnover, 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 that legislators do what is right on economic development and well-being of West Virginians.

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 is chairman of the health work group of the Eastern Panhandle Health and Human Services Collaborative.

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