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‘I'm Just So Upset.' Paid Leave Advocates React to Manchin Opposition to Build Back Better

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  • Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said in an interview this weekend that he cannot support the Build Back Better bill, which would create a federal paid family and medical leave plan.
  • Advocates for the proposal, including West Virginia residents, said they are disappointed with Manchin's stance after tireless efforts to sway him to their side.
  • "I'm just so upset," one West Virginia resident and grassroots organizer said.

Hopes for a federal paid family and medical leave program have dimmed after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., vowed to vote against the Build Back Better package that would include the change.

On Fox News on Sunday, Manchin said he is opposed to the legislation in its current form.

Among the proposals in the sweeping $1.75 trillion package are plans to give workers four weeks of paid leave if they have a new child, need to take care of a loved one or tend to their own medical needs.

Manchin has not expressed support for the paid leave proposal due to concerns about the costs creating a new federal program would entail. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the four-week paid leave proposal would cost around $205 billion over 10 years.

"Sen. Manchin has expressed support for a paid leave program that has a dedicated, sustainable funding mechanism," Sam Runyon, Manchin's communications director, said in a statement.

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Still, his comments in Sunday's interview were crushing for JoAnna Vance, 32, of Beckley, West Virginia, who has campaigned to support the paid leave proposal and to get Build Back Better passed, including speaking to Manchin himself.

"I'm just so upset," Vance said.

"If he doesn't support it and we don't get it, it's going to hurt so many West Virginians — not just West Virginians, people across the nation in general," she said.

Other advocacy groups devoted to paid leave were quick to respond after Manchin's interview.

Paid Leave for All said the leave plan would save jobs and lives, and could help provide West Virginians with $79 million more in their paychecks each year.

The U.S. is one of the few developed countries without a national paid leave program. While the initiative has been susceptible to getting cut from the package, and even was temporarily dropped from an earlier House version, it was ultimately included in the measure passed by that chamber.

Paid leave has gained momentum with some Senate lawmakers in recent weeks, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., pledging his support for the issue.

"One of the most important planks in our proposal is paid leave," he said.

The issue has largely not been addressed by Congress since the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which allows qualifying workers to take unpaid leave for family or medical reasons. Yet not all workers are covered by the policy.

"It would be truly devastating to not see something get done," said Adrienne Schweer, a fellow for the Bipartisan Policy Center, which has evaluated how lawmakers could potentially compromise on paid leave rather than have an all-or-nothing scenario.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., leaves a caucus meeting with Senate Democrats at the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 17, 2021.
Anna Moneymaker | Getty Images
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., leaves a caucus meeting with Senate Democrats at the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 17, 2021.

"There are quite a few years before you could see an opportunity to move something meaningful again," Schweer said.

Vance said not having access to paid leave affected her own family financially when her husband sought help for substance abuse disorder. After he returned from 10 days in treatment, he lost his job as a coal miner and had to find work in another industry with a lower hourly wage.

"He went to treatment to get better," Vance said. "Financially, it hurt us in the long run."

If her husband had had access to paid leave, he would have been able to keep his job, she said.

This year, Vance has campaigned for the paid family leave program, as well as the enhanced child tax credit — with monthly payments of up to $300 per child — to continue into 2022. Currently, those checks are set to expire this year.

In November, Manchin was a no-show for a meeting Vance had scheduled in his Washington, D.C., office. Instead, she and other advocates met with the lawmaker's staff.

Last week, however, she was able to talk to Manchin directly when they happened to be on the same early morning flight to Washington, D.C.

"It was a good conversation," Vance remembered. But because she didn't get a chance to say everything she wanted to, she followed up by writing Manchin a letter.

"We need you to pass the Build Back Better Agenda, making it a major down payment for our future, for West Virginia's future, and most importantly our kid's future," Vance wrote.

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