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The pandemic has shone a bright light on longstanding needs of families in West Virginia and across the country — needs that, when unaddressed, make families less financially secure, slow our economy and widen the gap between the richest in our country and everyone else.

The COVID-19 relief packages enacted in 2020 and this year’s American Rescue Plan have brought relief to many families that are struggling and will help our economy bounce back in the short-term. But these measures are narrowly designed to specifically address the hardship created by the pandemic. When their temporary provisions end, so too will our progress in fighting hardship, and longstanding challenges that have contributed to West Virginia’s alarmingly high poverty rate will quickly reemerge.

That’s why we cannot stop now. This moment provides a historic opportunity to shape what our state looks like after the pandemic by building a stronger recovery and a more robust economy that works for everyone going forward. The broader measures in President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan and the forthcoming American Families Plan are critical to getting families and small businesses back on their feet while building a more just future.

In recent days, there has been a lot of talk about what is and isn’t “real” infrastructure. But that is a distraction that obscures the real question that our elected officials should be asking: What is it that families and small businesses need to thrive? It’s similar to the question that we should all be asking ourselves: What can we accomplish together through our government? I want to see transformative solutions to the problems that families cannot solve on their own, and I don’t think I’m alone.

Which brings us back to infrastructure. Government plays an important role in building roads, bridges and airports. And over the past year, because of the pandemic, we’ve come to realize that broadband also is a necessity, as it’s vital in our 21st-century economy to work, to learn, to access health services and to stay connected with those we love.

And just like the pandemic showed us how critical broadband is as infrastructure, it has revealed the importance of family and work supports, such as affordable child care and paid leave. A new road or a filled pothole is inadequate to help someone get to work if they don’t also have affordable child care. And a new bridge means little for a family who cannot afford to shop at the grocery store across the river to put food on the table.

What’s more is that research shows investing in these policies would collectively benefit all of us, growing our social infrastructure and our economy. One estimate found that implementing policies like paid family and medical leave could add $2.4 trillion to our national gross domestic product by 2030. Another study estimates that investment in early childhood development and home-based health care could create twice as many jobs as infrastructure investments per $1 million spent.

West Virginia’s congressional delegation has a historic opportunity over the next year to enact policies that would permanently change the trajectory of our state for the better by improving opportunities for hundreds of thousands of West Virginia families. They mustn’t let the definition of a word like infrastructure hold them back from enacting immensely popular and needed policies that could move our state out of poverty and into sustainable growth for many years to come.

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

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