Guest Essays, Opinion

Guest essay: We know W.Va. needs Build Back Better. Why doesn’t Sen. Manchin?

by Brian Butcher and Ixya Vega

June of this year saw devastating floods ravage our neighborhoods. After the claims were filed, the discussions were held, the explanations given, our working class neighbors throughout our community were left with astronomical restoration bills or an unlivable home.

As weather events like this continue to ravage our communities throughout Appalachia, Sen. Manchin refuses to take action against the oil barons who have largely been responsible for this terrible climate future foisted upon the working class or to invest in the infrastructure necessary to lessen or reverse the impending disaster. The investment in climate protection represented in the upcoming Build Back Better bill is one of the few objectively fiscally responsible ways that congress can spend its money.

Morgantown as a city has already dedicated itself to large investments in improving our infrastructure to be more climate responsive and protect our citizens, but the nation must act. Climate-related disasters cost this country roughly $210 billion in damages in 2020. Is it really all that radical to say we should be making large investments to stop that bleeding of capital? When Sen. Manchin constantly discusses the notion of Build Back Better being fiscally irresponsible, why is it that he consistently omits the price tag of dealing with the fallout of climate-related catastrophe?

The Build Back Better Act would save working families $7,400 a year on average, a life changing pay raise for many in West Virginia, where the median income is $25,000 a year, representing nearly a 30% instant increase in earnings for working families. In communities like Morgantown, where we value the strength and resilience of small businesses and working class professionals, that investment would be placed squarely back into our beautiful city. Poor, working class and traditionally marginalized families in our community have had their lives and livelihood saved by the expanded child tax credit. These monthly payments are crucial to keep millions of American families out of poverty. Those most benefited by these monthly payments are often the most marginalized among us — our minority and working poor community in Morgantown that are so often overlooked.

Folks in cities like Morgantown all over the state are feeling the impacts of a global pandemic, global warming and our economy in a way they never have before. To ensure that our state is not only successful, but thriving, West Virginians must be given the opportunity to do so. Build Back Better is the very least that West Virginians deserve. The leaders in our city, county and state must prioritize protecting our citizens from the worst excesses of unfettered capitalism such as the ever increasing wealth inequality rampant in our country and the disasters brought on by climate change. The Build Back Better Act is the largest investment our government has made — in most of our lifetimes — into making sure the worst externalities of our economic system are not being brought to bear upon the poor and working class of our nation.

There are few other states in the nation that would be more directly advantaged from the transformative benefits of Build Back Better than West Virginia. A large majority of our citizenry understand that fact, which leaves one to question why Sen. Joe Manchin does not. The smart money would be on Joe knowing exactly who would and would not benefit from the act. After all, he has been at this for some time now, and the people of West Virginia are simply not Sen. Manchin’s priority. Times have changed, and Sen. Manchin needs to meet the West Virginia of today’s needs.

Brian Butcher and Ixya Vega are members of Morgantown City Council. Butcher represents the 7th Ward while Vega represents the 3rd Ward.