Manchin demands child tax credit in BBB goes to person raising child, not "crackhead" parents

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Joe Manchin is the face of moderate Democrat opposition to the Build Back Better Act. There is reporting that one of his objections to supporting the $1.7T social spending bill is the elimination of a provision that requires the person raising a child to be the one who receives the monthly child tax credit payment.

Manchin is a rare Democrat speaking out against the bloated bill over its cost and the burden it places on taxpayers. He doesn’t oppose the monthly child tax credit payments made to parents. He’s asking that if, for example, a grandparent is raising a child because the child’s parents are substance abusers. The grandparent obviously should receive the benefit. Manchin is concerned that the payments may go to supporting a parent’s drug addiction instead of going to the child’s needs.

This is not an unreasonable concern. Constituents in West Virginia have contacted his office to complain that the money is going into the wrong hands. He wants some measure of accountability that the assistance is limited to working parents as well as to grandparents if they are the ones raising the child. Manchin wants the money to follow the child. Manchin tells a story of a grandmother contacting him about her “crackhead daughter”. The daughter uses the money to buy drugs. One advocate of keeping the child tax credit in place is upset over Manchin’s use of the word ‘crackhead’ when he tells the story.

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.

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.

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.”

Really? That’s the problem, not the fact that the grandmother was voicing concern over how the tax credit was being used? As noted, he is likely just repeating what grandma told him. Good heavens. Manchin’s office pushed back on the ridiculous charge that Manchin is somehow insensitive to those with substance abuse problems.

“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.”

In the current law, a grandparent is eligible for the tax credit if the child lives with them for more than half the year. An earlier version of BBB would have given the IRS criteria to determine the child’s primary caregiver on a monthly basis. Democrats dropped those changes in exchange for only a one-year extension on the tax credit instead of continuing it through 2025. This was to ease the IRS’s burden in the administrative part of the program. According to a Democrat staffer, the provision can easily be “re-inserted” to satisfy Manchin. So, the question is, if Democrats are so desperate to get BBB passed, why wasn’t that done? It seems like a common-sense kind of fix.

It’s not the first time Manchin has questioned a social spending program. He spoke out about the paid sick leave program over concerns it would be abused. Manchin said people might pretend to be sick and use the time for something else, like hunting trips. This is drawing criticism from big-spending Democrat colleagues. These kinds of concerns shouldn’t surprise his Senate colleagues, though. Manchin isn’t a newbie in the Senate and before that he was the governor of West Virginia. He knows its problems, including the state’s devastating problems in the opioid crisis.

Manchin’s demand for a work requirement for all social programs was dropped during negotiations with the White House. The framework of the legislation that was negotiated by Manchin and Senator Sinema was released in October. The tax credit currently pays parents whether or not they have earned money or owe taxes. The amount of credit is $300 per child under age 6 and $250 per child under age 18 for two-parent households earning less than $150,000 per year. For single parents, the cut-off is $112,000 in annual income. You can see how those guidelines cover millions of families to be eligible for the benefit. The tax credit program stops at the end of the year, without the passage of BBB.

This reminds me of the days when Bill Clinton was in office and his welfare program reform legislation. Democrats were beside themselves in opposition to work requirements in exchange for welfare benefits. American voters were so fed up with waste and abuse in welfare payments that Clinton used the issue to help get himself re-elected. Republicans had promised for years that they would make such reforms so Clinton worked with Newt Gingrich and the Republican majority that the earlier Clinton years had ushered in – the first Republican majority in Congress in 40 years. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act passed in 1996 was seen as a start to ending generational welfare. Since COVID hit and Biden was elected, Democrats have tossed out any concern of overspending or abuse of the system.

We’ll see if BBB is revived in January and if so, what form it takes. If it is, it isn’t too much to ask that the fever dream list of Democrat pet social spending programs be distributed responsibly, with accountability. Manchin’s still a Democrat and isn’t opposed to voting for big spending bills. He voted for the infrastructure bill. It’s just interesting that the big hubbub over his use of the word “crackhead” gets attention, not the actual problem of the misuse of federal funds. Look for the Senate to try and split up the bill and pass the renewal of the child tax credit that way. Democrats love the talking point that the tax credit monthly payments are ending childhood poverty by up to 40%. That all remains to be seen.