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Since the coronavirus pandemic began, we at the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy have been soliciting stories from people all across the state to hear how various issues — unemployment insurance changes, challenges accessing child care, food insecurity, lack of paid leave and more — have affected their families.

Over and over, we heard that the pandemic has created significant challenges, but, in most cases, those challenges have been mere exacerbations of longstanding issues that workers and families in our state face. These issues are all interconnected with our ability to address the pandemic and to recover in an equitable way that is inclusive of all West Virginians.

For example, survey data shows that nearly half of unvaccinated workers are hesitant to get the vaccine because they are worried about missing work due to side effects — something that could be addressed by enacting earned paid sick leave for all workers. While the need for paid time off to address one’s illness is not a new one, it is one that has been magnified by the pandemic.

Fortunately, multiple COVID-19 relief packages passed by Congress have helped address these needs in the short term, including providing much-needed stimulus payments to households, support to small businesses, temporary paid leave benefits for those dealing with COVID-19 and temporary expansion of health care and child care assistance. But these are all supports that have come to a close, or soon will, and West Virginians know these issues won’t go away when the pandemic ends.

Right now, Congress and the White House are taking an important step in thinking about our people’s longer-term needs by working together to craft an infrastructure package. West Virginia’s U.S. senators, Republican Shelley Moore Capito and Democrat Joe Manchin, are at the forefront of these negotiations to invest in our country’s roads and bridges — important needs that have long been neglected. But if Congress simply stops there, they will have squandered an important opportunity to invest in our people and to move West Virginia forward by ensuring that the post-pandemic economy works for everyone.

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That’s why the next phase of legislation is just as important. Referred to as the “Build Back Better” recovery agenda, Congress soon will consider legislation that focuses on the needs of families — those same needs that we’ve been hearing about in our conversations with West Virginians: investments in our long-term care workforce; enacting paid family and medical leave; making child care more affordable and accessible to families; and enhancing child nutrition, just to name a few. These are the policies that will spur our economic recovery by making sure families and workers have the support they need to get to work, to earn a living wage and to know that their loved ones are safe and cared for.

Even better, the recovery agenda is paid for by closing loopholes that allow the wealthiest Americans to pay less in taxes than working West Virginia families. A recent ProPublica report revealed what many of us already know: The wealthiest in our country have not contributed their fair share, even as they’ve seen their wealth skyrocket in recent years and during the pandemic. It’s alarming that Congress has allowed this two-tiered system — where working families pay their fair share and the rich have the means to evade paying theirs — to persist for so long.

In that regard, upcoming recovery legislation addresses two major needs. It asks the wealthiest Americans, who benefit from government programs and services just as much as the rest of us, to pay their share, and it funds needed investments in families that will ensure that West Virginia’s economy can recover in a way that works for all of us.

The pandemic revealed that our current system is not working for far too many. Fortunately, our U.S. senators have the opportunity to ensure that West Virginia families’ needs are heard and met by investing in these long-needed supports.

Kelly Allen is executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy.

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