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At our clinic in Pendleton County, an FQHC not-for-profit primary care organization, I work firsthand with the impact of poverty on children’s health.

Early childhood in particular is a critical developmental window that sets the trajectory of well-being for a child’s life. It is well documented that children growing up in financially stable households have better long-term outcomes. While decision-makers need to support programs that connect parents to economic opportunities, we also need to aid our families until those opportunities can be realized.

Eighteen months into the COVID-19 pandemic, I am relieved that, thanks to bipartisan efforts to assist them, most local families, while hard hit with the medical and economic fallout from the virus, have kept their families stable. One policy that stands out as transformative for our community has been the move to monthly disbursement of the expanded child tax credit payments.

We are deeply grateful to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and other members of Congress for expanding and boosting the child tax credit to include more resources for the lowest- and no-income families.

These children are at greatest risk when the family is stressed, and these families are always stressed. Families in our practice make hard choices every month to cover basic needs such as rent, food and diapers. These legislative refinements will cut child poverty nearly in half across the country, investing wisely in the national resource that is our children, and reducing the food insufficiencies and other inequities that should not be a factor in the wealthiest, most productive country in the world.

In Pendleton County, the children-in-poverty rate hovers around 25%. We look forward to seeing this figure plummet.

The previous structure of the child tax credit disproportionately excluded children in rural areas; 42% of our state’s children were left out of the full benefit, as their families earned too little. Under the expanded program, nearly all of these children are included. In West Virginia, more than 300,000 children now receive the monthly child tax credit. The expanded credit is expected to shift 25,000 of these children above the poverty line, as their families use it to buy food and manage their bills.

Imagine what it means for a parent to have a lessening of the relentless pressure to do, what seems to many of the rest of us, these simple things.

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Locally and statewide, we have achieved advances in children’s education and health care, and now is not the time to drop the ball on helping our families succeed. The many grandparents I see rearing children are finding the child tax credit payments and other assistance as a lifeline while they run their households on low, fixed incomes in retirement. The young families who come to us are making every effort to address their children’s health issues at their well-child checkups and at our school-based health centers.

Adding the child tax credit family payments to existing resources leverages the benefits of each program to give each youngster the good start in life that every American expects.

The importance of this action cannot be overstated.

Congress must act promptly to extend these changes in the child tax credit.

We cannot let this lifeline expire.

Not only are the changes overwhelmingly popular among West Virginia voters, they are evidence-based policies that lift children out of poverty, provide tax relief for middle-class families and bolster local economies.

Children don’t have lobbyists; they depend on us to commit to these bold investments in a permanently inclusive child tax credit to secure their futures.

Dr. J. King Seegar is a pediatrician living in Pendleton County.

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