In this Dec. 17, 2021, file photo, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, walks to a caucus lunch at the Capitol in Washington. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

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Kristen Olsen is an educator in West Virginia and a member of the Poor People’s Campaign. She wrote this for

I work hard to make ends meet for my family. But as an educator in West Virginia, that’s hard sometimes — especially with child care expenses.

Fortunately, the expanded child tax credit that Democrats passed last spring has been a lifeline. Those monthly payments have meant that my child has food, a roof, electricity and heat. They have meant I have less stress and can be a better mother. And they have meant I can stay employed because I can afford child care.

Across the United States, 65 million children and families like mine have been getting these monthly payments of up to $300 per child — including nearly every child in West Virginia, whose children are among the poorest in the country.

Unfortunately, because Congress failed to pass the Build Back Better Act before the end of 2021, those payments have now expired.

Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill don’t generally support extending tax relief for everyday Americans — even though they had no trouble passing trillions in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans when Trump was in power.

So Democrats have been working on extending these payments to ordinary families without Republicans. But one of their own keeps standing in their way: my senator, Joe Manchin. So far, Manchin has joined his Republican colleagues in refusing to support this tax relief for the rest of us.

In my frustration, I can’t help but wonder how a multimillionaire like Manchin — who could spend $300 on lunch on a Tuesday if he felt like it — could understand what that $300 a month means for a family like mine.

This is more than lunch for us. A recent survey found that nearly all of the families of the 65 million children who got the enhanced child tax credit benefits used them for essentials like food, school, rent and utilities.

These payments kept more than 3.5 million children out of poverty in the month of October alone. And nationally, they’re expected to reduce the number of children living in poverty by at least 40 percent once all the benefits are realized.

That means we need this. It isn’t extra. It isn’t optional.

The Build Back Better Act wouldn’t just extend the child tax credit payments. It would also help ordinary families pay for child care, higher education and prescription drugs. It would expand health coverage and job training, and create new jobs with better wages.

It would also, for the first time, guarantee four weeks of paid sick leave for American workers to care for themselves, a child, or parent when they’re ill — another provision Manchin has vehemently opposed.

But there’s a critical difference between Manchin and his Republican colleagues: Manchin has the power to pass or sink the bill.

A multi-millionaire politician funded by corporate coal interests has the power to push my 4-year-old boy and me off the economic cliff. Or he can pull us back from the brink and start investing in a brighter future.

I’m fortunate enough, during this pandemic, to still have a job that keeps me and my toddler just above the absurdly low poverty line. For me — and for millions of parents across West Virginia and the rest of the country — whether we stay above that line comes down to Manchin.

As a parent, an educator, and a member of the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign, I want to know, in this epic showdown between the huge corporate donors and the rest of us: Which side are you on, Joe?