Right now, Congress is considering a budget package that serves as an important companion to the negotiated bipartisan infrastructure package.
Alongside much-needed investments in roads and bridges, it would address longstanding needs of workers and families in our state and around the country — things like paid family and medical leave, to ensure that no worker has to choose between their job and their health; investments in the child care and home health workforces; extension of the child tax credit, which has had immediate anti-poverty and food security effects across our state; and much more.
And yet, instead of talking about the life-changing effects of making the child tax credit permanent, ensuring that home health and child care providers earn a living wage, or of providing paid leave to all workers, much of the public debate so far has focused around a single number: the $3.5 trillion in gross new investments over the next decade that are expected to be included in the package.
But that number fails to focus on the merits of the investments themselves or to take into account that Congress plans to pay for most of that cost through revenue increases and spending reductions as part of the package.
When analyzing the fiscal effects of the proposal, it makes much more sense to focus on the net cost of the package — the amount left after offsetting pay fors — which will be far less than $3.5 trillion. In fact, Moody’s Analytics, a widely respected economic analysis firm, published a macroeconomic analysis in July stating that the infrastructure and budget packages are “more-or-less paid for on a dynamic basis through higher taxes on the well-to-do and a range of other pay fors,” and that inflation concerns are overblown.
Additionally, investments in workforce supports, like those included in the budget package, actually expand the ability of our economy to sustain demand, growing our economy over time and offsetting inflation concerns.
Which brings us to the merits of the investments in workers and families. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has questioned whether these programs are needed right now. One could argue that they are more important in West Virginia than any other state. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, two-thirds of West Virginia households lived in child care deserts, where the number of children far exceeds the number of available child care slots. And in places that do have child care centers, care has often been unaffordable for families, costing on average more than a year’s college tuition for a single child.
Fewer than one in five workers here has access to paid time off to care for a new child or to deal with a serious illness, despite an aging workforce that has significant health challenges. And we have among the lowest college-attainment rates in the country, which is a key indicator of earnings and economic mobility.
Each of these issues is an urgent workforce need that could grow our economy and our ability to ensure that West Virginians can balance work and family — and each of them would be addressed in the budget package that Congress is considering.
On the other side of the ledger, our state would be the least affected in the nation by the tax increases on the wealthy and corporations that would pay for the package. Less than one-tenth of 1% of residents would see any tax increase, while nearly 500,000 West Virginians would see a tax cut from the child tax credit and earned income tax credit, and almost every West Virginian would benefit from the other programs that would be enacted.
West Virginians are hard-working people but, without these pathways to economic mobility and supports for our workers, we will fall back into a status quo that failed far too many of us.
Fortunately, there is a chance to move forward this year, and Manchin is likely to be the deciding vote. With his support, we can pair important infrastructure investments with the workforce supports needed to ensure we can fill the jobs of today and tomorrow while making sure workers can balance family and their jobs.