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JoAnna Vance: An Open Letter to Senator Joe Manchin III

Above: JoAnna Vance after speaking in Washington, D.C. for the Poor People's Campaign Moral Monday March, December 13, 2021. Photo: Bryan Vana / AFSC

I was buckling my seatbelt on the plane for my 6:20 AM flight on Monday to D.C. when I was pleasantly surprised to look up and see you boarding the plane. As you walked by you whispered, "The plane is full this morning," and I shook my head in agreement and in total disbelief that you, of all people were flying coach, on the same plane as me. During the short flight I glanced back several times to see you with your light on, in an otherwise dark plane, busily working away, and how I wished that I was the person sitting beside you so that we could talk.

Upon landing, I waited for you in hopes of having a conversation about the Build Back Better Agenda. As nervous as I was, I'm grateful that you welcomed me with an open conversation walking through the D.C. airport. However, in retrospect, there are some things that I wish I would have said.

I wish I would have told you that while you may be seeing my face a lot regarding the Child Tax Credit and Paid Family and Medical Leave—and all things that entail the Build Back Better Agenda—that I am not only a directly impacted person, but also a grassroots organizer. My story and experiences are not unique because I've talked to hundreds of West Virginians that have told me their stories.

I wish I would have told you more of their stories, specifically around the CTC: how it helped Shania pay down debt and bills before her due date instead of living paycheck to paycheck; how it helped Jessica keep food in the home because with the rise of costs in utilities, her family would not have been able to do both; how it helped Cheyenne stay above water versus having to use credit cards adding to her family's debt. There are so many stories.

I wish I would have told you that having a work requirement for the CTC makes no sense when so many West Virginia towns that were once booming coal towns have since been reduced to nothing but a ghastly image of their former selves, with no access to childcare, no jobs, and no transportation to jobs 20-plus miles in either direction.

I wish I would have told you how it would affect West Virginia families if they don't receive the CTC in January, one of the hardest times of the year to get through. Utilities will get cut off, families will go hungry, debt will rise, and all the good things that the CTC has helped do in West Virginia will fall by the wayside.

I wish I would have followed you all the way to your car sharing stories from West Virginians—I mean that's the reason I collect them. I don't know why I didn't. Maybe I was nervous. Or I didn't want to get on your nerves. Or just didn't know what to do in the moment because I was in shock that it was even happening.

This letter doesn't even scratch the surface of all the things that I wish that I would have said to you. I did make notes and I will do better next time. But ultimately, that's why I'm writing you this letter now. West Virginia is struggling, and West Virginians are suffering. And we need your help. We need you to pass the Build Back Better Agenda, to make a major down payment for our future—for West Virginia's future, and most importantly, our kids' future.

Sincerely,

JoAnna Vance
Wife, Mom, Person in Recovery, WV Grassroots Organizer

Joanna Vance is the Recovery Fellow for the AFSC's West Virginia Economic Justice Project.