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Entitlement. When did it become a dirty word?

In government services, it refers to a program that is available to all who are eligible, like Medicare or Social Security. If you meet the qualifications, you can get the benefits. And it’s no coincidence that these programs for older adults are among the most popular government programs.

On the other hand, programs for children — like child care subsidies — are operated on a more limited basis, via fixed block grants. This creates a first-come, first-served program, where constant underfunding means lots of people who meet the eligibility for the program cannot access it or the program’s eligibility is so limited that few people qualify.

This leaves far too many people struggling to make ends meet — but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Lately, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has raised concerns about an “entitlement mentality,” insinuating that passing some of the provisions in the Build Back Better Act would create a society where people expect too much. I find this hard to reconcile with what I see every day: West Virginians making do with far too little.

Take Stephanie, from Wheeling, who had a new baby who had to be transported to the NICU in Morgantown. When she traveled to be with her child at the hospital, rather than going back to work in the immediate weeks after the child’s birth, she was fired from her job. Under the Build Back Better Act, she would have job protection and paid time off to care for and bond with her child — as would all working moms and dads.

Or take Bailee, a mom and small-business owner from Morgantown, who has a child with epilepsy who requires medication that costs $300 per month. The expanded child tax credit is helping her family cover the cost of that medication and allowing Bailee to have the job flexibility to care for her child at home each day, since her health condition makes care in a center a challenge. Under Build Back Better, the expanded tax credit would continue beyond 2021 and keep providing financial stability to the parents of over 300,000 West Virginia kids in total, including 169,000 who were previously left out of the full benefit.

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Policy research and the experiences of West Virginians like Stephanie and Bailee, and many others, all come to the same conclusion: The investments proposed in the Build Back Better Act help families become more economically secure and better balance work and life’s responsibilities.

Even better, they would drive historic reductions in child poverty, grow our economy and increase the future health and well-being of kids. And, taken together, the Build Back Better Act and the bipartisan infrastructure framework are expected to create 4 million jobs across the country, including important investments in the child care and home care workforces and in clean energy jobs that can ensure West Virginia workers are included in the economy of the future.

But we won’t get to experience all these benefits of Build Back Better if it’s dramatically scaled back or if key programs are stripped out of the bill to arbitrarily lower the cost. West Virginians’ needs — and the well-being of our people — are too important to piecemeal together, as the care provisions work in tandem with one another, each addressing longstanding challenges.

The child tax credit alone is not enough to cover the cost of child care, and it is meant to cover other costs of raising children, like Bailee’s family has found. Only investing in child care doesn’t address the fact that too many moms and dads go back to work within days of a child’s birth or risk losing their jobs, like Stephanie.

We need a robust care infrastructure that supports hardworking West Virginians. We can create one, and pay for it, by closing tax loopholes and asking the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share — all things Manchin has expressed support for doing. In fact, an analysis of the Build Back Better tax proposal prepared by the Institution on Taxation and Economic Policy found that just 1.6% of individuals will pay more in income taxes, with 97% of the increases being paid by the wealthiest 1% of Americans.

The only question is whether our U.S. senator agrees with the majority of West Virginians that this is a moment to boldly move our state forward, or whether he chooses to limit the investments and, thus, our ability to support those who support our families and economy every day.

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

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