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I appreciate Sen. Joe Manchin’s leadership in sponsoring the Freedom to Vote Act. That proposed legislation, if enacted, would address the very serious concerns Black Americans and others share in West Virginia and across the nation regarding election integrity and voting rights.

We also need the help of Manchin, D-W.Va., in regard to another issue that deeply affects West Virginia’s Black community, as well as many other disadvantaged populations. It’s no surprise that the child poverty rate increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, which particularly had an effect on Black and Latino families.

According to the Children’s Defense Fund, 71% of children living in poverty are children of color.

Children of color also are two-and-a-half times more likely to experience poverty than their white counterparts, largely because of the discrimination their parents and caregivers experience throughout their lives in education, employment, health care and more.

The effects fell particularly hard on female-headed households. However, as West Virginia’s long history of economic hardship shows, child poverty also adversely affects many white children, often with lifelong consequences.

Fortunately, Manchin’s support of the American Rescue Plan has helped make dramatic improvements in that situation, via the improvements in the child tax credit. According to the Center on Poverty and Social Policy, the child tax credit could reduce overall child poverty by 45%, with reductions of 52% for Black children, 45% for Hispanic children and 62% for American Indian children.

Some research suggests this is already happening.

We already know, from census pulse surveys, that the very first round of the child tax credit alone, in July 2021, reduced food insecurity for families with children by nearly 25%, and greater results were expected in the future.

However, there is concern that the beneficial effects of this policy will be undermined for those most in need by the imposition of income and work requirements, which have long been associated with racially tinged “dog whistle” stereotypes of lazy people.

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Just think of Ronald Reagan’s talk about “welfare queens” and a “strapping young buck” buying steaks with food stamps.

As Elisa Minoff, of the Center for the Study of Social Policy, wrote in a report titled “The Racist Roots of Work Requirements,” “Despite black people’s long history of work, racist stereotypes that black people do not want to work have been invoked consistently to promote work requirements.”

The report notes, “States where a larger proportion of the population is black have the strictest work requirement policies in TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), denying families their full benefit for something as simple as not turning in a time sheet on time, or missing a day of work participation to take a child to the hospital.”

Further, within states, Black families and other people of color are more likely to be sanctioned for not meeting work requirements: “Not only do people of color face employment discrimination that can make it more difficult to find and keep a job, but research suggests that caseworker discretion also plays a role in higher sanction rates, as biases and stereotypes lead caseworkers to sanction black clients more often.”

While there is no evidence that such requirements actually promote work, the real danger is that denying the child tax credit to the poorest families will only make it more difficult for them to enter and remain in the workforce. The boost provided by the child tax credit can help with car repair, other transportation needs, clothing, child care, tools and training often needed for family members to work. It also can reduce the stress caused by the threat of evictions, hunger, utility cutoffs, unforeseen setbacks and the inability of these families to fully participate in their communities.

Work requirements additionally undervalue the importance of caregiving and could deny the benefits of the child tax credit to grandparents raising children, people with disabilities, domestic violence survivors, very low-income workers, seasonal employees and the unemployed.

I respectfully urge Manchin to reconsider support for such requirements and support an extension of the child tax credit beyond its current expiration date.

This is a historic opportunity to dramatically improve the lives of millions of children and families, particularly those Jesus referred to as “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine.”

Loretta Young, of Ronceverte, is a community activist and volunteer.

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