It’s true: 3.5 trillion is a big number. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have made a big show of balking at the $3.5 trillion price tag of the human infrastructure budget deal that would bolster the bedrock of our economy—our so-often undervalued care workforce and the working families who rely upon a crumbling care infrastructure.
The figure $3.5 trillion is equally jarring when framed a different way: Those who were elected to represent their constituents are ignoring the cries of working families and caregivers, mothers of color in particular, by sitting on a much-needed $3.5 trillion investment that could address the decades-long fiscal neglect of low- and moderate-income families and communities.
We must examine what working families stand to lose if our government cannot pass these long-overdue, critical investments in our nation’s care economy and infrastructure. Even before the pandemic, when 70 percent of households with children under 6 were also households where all parents worked and access to quality, affordable childcare was out of reach for many. This was exacerbated by the pandemic when millions of women were pushed out of the workforce, including unprecedented numbers of Black and Brown women. Many of these people are unable to return to work anytime soon due to inadequate childcare options and lack of paid family leave.
Neither Manchin nor Sinema—whose home states of West Virginia and Arizona have some of the highest poverty and child poverty rates in the country—are unfamiliar with the dire economic stakes involved. Arizona and West Virginia rank as the 13th and 7th worst in the nation in terms of the child poverty rate—19.1 percent and 20.1 percent respectively. These numbers will only continue to rise if Congress does not invest in implementing more affordable and available childcare and family leave.
Implementing 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave and federal investments to ensure no family pays more than 7 percent of their income on childcare and childcare providers are paid a living wage will result in increased lifetime earnings and savings for working mothers, along with nationwide economic expansion.
Arizona and West Virginia rank as the 13th and 7th worst in the nation when it comes to child poverty. These numbers will continue to rise if Congress does not invest in childcare and family leave.
These programs are not simply lines in a ledger that need cutting. These are families; these are lives and this is our future. It’s access to health care, paid leave and childcare, providing families with the ability to make the right choices for their own families.
And while we know it may not be possible to solve every social ill in one piece of legislation, leaving families and mothers behind without this support is unacceptable. The human infrastructure deal is intended to ensure the long-term economic security of our nation; this is not possible without critical funding for essential programs that would support families, address child poverty and prevent these groups from being left behind by economic recovery.
Though Manchin is grabbing most of the headlines, the door is wide open for Sen. Sinema to be the hero of the recovery of working families and low-income people nationwide. As a woman in national politics, many of us have observed and jumped to defend her from sexist attacks and biased scrutiny. This too is a women’s issue, and one that offers 3.5 trillion ways to lift up and support millions of other women and families across the country.
A social worker by training and former criminal defense lawyer, Sinema is no doubt intimately familiar with these issues and the myriad ways that the deck is often stacked against women and particularly against those with low incomes or experiencing inter-generational poverty. While proceeding through negotiations, Sinema needs to prioritize investments in programs that truly benefit families like the child tax credit, which would result in cutting child poverty by 40 percent.
Both Sinema and Manchin were elected because their voters chose the candidate presenting themselves as standing for Democratic principles and priorities. On behalf of the people who put you in office and everyday struggling people across the country, to the senators for Arizona and West Virginia we make this appeal: You were voted in for a reason.
The mothers and families of West Virginia and Arizona put their faith in you to fight for their needs; don’t let them down. This will be your legacy. Seize this moment to turn up for those who turned out for you. Let history remember you as esteemed public servants who fought for low-income communities and working families in the moment when they needed you most.