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An Open Letter to Senator Manchin: Build Back Better Is Consequential to Black Women's Mental Health

COMMENTARY - Dear Senator Manchin, This single Black mom has a bone to pick with you.

We can’t pare down family leave. Sorry, we just can’t. The lack of protections like paid family leave available to working mothers have only become more apparent during the pandemic, driving literally millions of mothers out of work.

And we damn sure can’t wait to take a paid family leave policy through any “regular order.” Working mothers and caregivers also face the anxieties attached to managing their family’s health against the threat of COVID and juggling their work with everyday responsibilities of housework. We’re just starting to get women back into the workforce from the devastation of last September and now- with a new COVID strain and the threat of once again having to work, care for aging parents, and homeschooling- you want us to follow a “regular order”?

You do realize Senator, that today’s lack of a national paid leave policy is exactly why we single moms want the child tax credit extended? Those who have been able to keep their jobs or work remotely, getting time off has been a pain and often they’re left with no choice but to lose income. In a 2021 survey, 43.5% mothers reported needing time off during the pandemic and not being able to take it.

We can't take advantage of tax credits in the same way as married couples, receive inadequate child support, and are more likely than any other demographic group to fall below the poverty line. More than 1/3 of single-mother-headed families are defined as poor because their total income is under their family's threshold. We can’t afford to send our children to daycare. We can’t afford adult care. We can’t afford not to work when we are sick. We can’t, we can’t, we can’t, yet we are expected to keep our nation running.

And your retort that the one-year extension of the child tax credit isn’t "transparent?" Laughable. Call me a dreamer, but I envision such an extension benefiting mandatory and discretionary federal spending. Your comment almost implies that we recipients of the child tax credit would spend the funds frivolously, instead of on things such as student loans, childcare, education, and food.

Black mothers in particular sustain an array of essential industries from food service to public transit to nursing homes that have kept. Yet, they are traditionally underpaid and overworked — last to get hired and first to be fired in times of crises. It is well overdue for the government to do its part and put protections in place to give them the peace of mind they need to flourish at home and at work.

The Build Back Better Act will invest $205 billion in a federal paid family and sick-leave program over ten years and help subsidize child care for some of the lowest-income families for the next six years, freeing up household income to cover the cost of other necessities such as housing, food, utilities or financial emergencies. Savings would also boost women’s long-term economic security.

It is a mammoth piece of legislation Senator Manchin, I agree. But if you and the Senate have learned anything this past year- from the expedition of vaccines for a global pandemic to the passing of the $1 trillion+ bipartisan infrastructure plan- I hope it’s that being historically conservative is what’s causing this dire need for monumental, transformational change.

As it stands, the United States is the last remaining industrialized country not to have guaranteed paid family leave for new mothers. Yet, seven in ten women deem paid leave a “very important” factor in their decision to work. America needs to address its ongoing problem with families (of all shapes, colors, and sizes) NOW.

The provisions outlined in the Build Back Better Act — from paid family leave to free pre-K — can help create a more equitable system and better position working moms for professional success. With nearly 3.5 million American mothers of school-going children dropping out of the workforce since the onset of the global pandemic, the initial anxiety to make ends meet ranks paramount. We greatly contribute to our nation’s GDP and play a critical role in stimulating our nation’s economy during times of financial crisis. If our economy is dependent upon families, why keep making it hard for us?

Thriving as a mother is difficult as is. Nearly two years into the pandemic, women remain one of the hardest hit groups, which inevitably takes its toll mentally. Adding laws that make it significantly harder to take care of a family as a single mother (or a Black mother) and one senator obstructing the President’s agenda, and it becomes nearly impossible.

Sincerely,

Christine Michel Carter

(Best-selling author Christine Michel Carter is the "#1 global voice for working moms." At home she's Mommy to Maya and West, the two cutest damn kids on the planet. Featured in The New York Times and The Washington Post, she has been called a "working mom who's changing the world," the "mom of mom influencers," "the exec inspiring millennial moms," "the voice of millennial moms," and more. She is the author of Can Mommy Go To Work? and MOM AF. This letter was published in Common Dreams.)