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West Virginia AFSC speaks out against Manchin’s refusal to support Build Back Better

Photo: Bryan Vana / AFSC

CHARLESTON, WV (December 20, 2021) Over the weekend, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin announced on Fox News that he would not support the Build Back Better act. This comes after months of debate over the provisions in the bill, which would help families with childcare, improve the U.S. response to climate change, and strengthen the social safety net. The proposed legislation would also provide needed funding for Black Lung benefits.

The West Virginia program of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) – a Quaker organization active in the state for a century – issued the following statement calling on Manchin to change his position:

“A century ago, Quaker volunteers began working in solidarity with the people of West Virginia. There was severe economic hardship in the coalfields, with child poverty and hunger being key issues. Sadly, and perhaps incredibly, those issues are still very much alive in West Virginia, and we are still in the struggle to alleviate these challenging circumstances for people in our community.

During the 1920s and 1930s, AFSC administered direct relief to families in West Virginia and advocated for federal New Deal legislation to reduce unnecessary human misery, which transformed U.S. society. From the 1970s onward, AFSC accompanied and advocated for justice for coal miners and other workers, Black people, women, children, people in poverty, and other marginalized communities.

On many occasions, AFSC staff and volunteers collaborated with then legislator, later Governor, and now Senator Joe Manchin on state and federal issues ranging from the minimum wage and fair taxes to coal mine safety and preserving the gains of the Affordable Care Act.

We have also witnessed firsthand the better angels of our Senator’s nature in the compassion he has shown for victims of natural and human disasters. From the 1968 Farmington mine disaster, in which he lost an uncle, to the Aracoma, Sago and Upper Big Branch mine tragedies in the 2000s and beyond, Senator Manchin has shown himself to be compassionate and responsive.

Thus, we are deeply saddened to learn that Senator Manchin has withdrawn support from the proposed Build Back Better Act. Many in West Virginia have worked tirelessly to advocate for an opportunity to pass this life-changing piece of legislation. The Build Back Better Act would be as positively transformative as the New Deal in dramatically reducing child poverty and helping working families negotiate the duties of family and work. The Build Back Better Act would also address the existential threats of climate change and the need for a just economic transition for the people of West Virginia towards a more prosperous, sustainable, and less extractive and exploitive economic future.

We are still hopeful. AFSC is a diverse organization committed to the deeply held view that there is “that of God” in every person. It is not too late for Senator Manchin to return to his commitments, take a bold and needed step in this pivotal moment, and support prompt enactment of these measures.

We are holding out hope that our Senator still has some compassion for the hundreds of thousands of West Virginians and millions of people who would benefit from the Child Tax Credit, childcare support, improved health care, and immigration relief. As an organization with a global footprint, we also hope the Senator has compassion for the billions of people worldwide who might benefit from addressing climate change, an existential threat to us all.

We urge our Senator to recommit himself to negotiating the passage of genuinely transformative federal legislation that would dramatically reduce human suffering in West Virginia, the United States, and worldwide.”


The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that promotes lasting peace with justice, as a practical expression of faith in action. Drawing on continuing spiritual insights and working with people of many backgrounds, we nurture the seeds of change and respect for human life that transform social systems.