Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has refused to support Democrats’ Build Back Better Act, partly because he worries the bill’s continuation of monthly child tax credit payments would subsidize drug use among some parents.
Manchin’s concern about the benefits may stem from complaints he heard from constituents, including a grandmother who he said complained to the senator’s office that her daughter wasn’t using the monthly payments to support her child.
JoAnna Vance, a mother of three from Beckley, West Virginia, is a recovery fellow with the American Friends Service Committee’s West Virginia Economic Justice Project. She attended a meeting with about a dozen other advocates at Manchin’s Charleston office in September, where they pressed the senator to support the child tax credit.
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Vance, 32, said the senator pushed back on the benefits, which have paid parents as much as $300 per child each month since July.
“He said he’s gotten phone calls from one grandmother specifically talking about her crackhead daughter ― he used the word crackhead three times ― talking about her crackhead daughter running around using the child tax credit to buy drugs and get high instead of it going where it needs to go,” Vance told HuffPost.
Vance has been a highly visible advocate for Build Back Better in West Virginia and Washington, where she’s told her own story of recovery and talked about how much the monthly child tax credit payments have helped her family.
As someone in long-term recovery from substance use disorder, Vance said she was offended by Manchin’s use of the word “crackhead,” though she acknowledged he may have merely been repeating verbatim what he’d heard from the person who called his office.
“I was just completely in shock that he even said ‘crackhead,’ I was like, ‘Wow,’” Vance said. “I’ve just been chewing on it for this long.”
Manchin’s office rejected the idea that the senator had been insensitive.
“Senator Manchin has been a fierce advocate for those suffering from substance use disorder and their families,” Manchin spokeswoman Sam Runyon said in an email. “Suggestions that he is insensitive to those struggling with addiction are categorically false.”
Vance said she decided to share the anecdote after seeing HuffPost’s report this week about Manchin complaining to fellow senators about parents using the child tax credit on drugs.
In a radio interview explaining his opposition to Build Back Better on Monday, Manchin said the child tax credit payments should only go to parents who are working. And he also said grandparents should be able to receive the payments if they’re caring for their grandchildren.
“Make sure the money follows the child so if the grandparent is raising the child, they’re getting the money and not the parent,” Manchin said, adding that some biological parents lack the desire or capability to raise their own children.
Thanks to the opioid epidemic, West Virginia ranks second among states in grandparents raising their children, according to Bonnie Dunn, an expert on “grandfamilies” at West Virginia State University.
Manchin said his fellow Democrats “won’t even talk about” a grandparent fix.
Under current law, a grandparent who is a primary caregiver is eligible to receive the tax credit if the child lives with them for more than half the year. An early version of the Build Back Better Act would have given the IRS more criteria to determine who is a primary caregiver every month, such as by looking at whether a person is arranging a child’s doctor visits or schooling.
Democrats dropped those child tax credit changes, however, when they opted for a one-year extension of the credit instead of continuing it through 2025 as originally planned, likely to ease the IRS’s burden in administering such a short-term program. The issue hasn’t received much public attention in the halls of Congress.
A Democratic aide said House and Senate tax staffers had worked hard on the family provisions that were dropped, adding that they could be “easily be re-inserted” to get Manchin on board.
“That flexibility would have addressed Sen. Manchin’s concerns about benefits following children,” the aide said. “For example, grandparents would be able to get the benefit if they were taking care of their grandchildren but have not yet claimed them as dependents.”