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The expanded child tax credit that went into effect earlier this year is not only assisting families in West Virginia with food, child care and debt reduction; it also is helping families struggling with substance use disorder. It provides essential support to parents and guardians who are afflicted with substance use disorder that enables them to attend to their illness while providing for their children. The expanded child tax credit has become a long-term investment in those families. Therefore, a permanent or long-term extension of the expanded child tax credit is critical for the future of West Virginia’s children and families.

Rev. James Patterson, the CEO of the Partnership of African American Church (PAAC), has determined that anyone in treatment for a substance use disorder must focus on recovery and can’t work at the same. Therefore, the expanded child tax credit is “extremely important to those families to help them secure food and pay the necessary bills while they are in the initial stages of treatment.”

Nora Volkow, the top federal researcher on drug abuse, states, “we cannot hope to abate the opioid and heroin crisis without addressing the economic disparities that augment the economic crises that deprives people of hope and opportunity on the path toward recovery.”

Furthermore, the pandemic has augmented the impact of substance abuse because many people have turned to addictive substances to manage stress, isolation, anxiety, and other issues. When health care resources were redirected to pandemic-related services, fewer resources were available for people experiencing substance use disorder. Dr. Rahul Gupta, former West Virginia public health officer recently nominated to be the nation’s drug czar, cited the shift away from in-person care during the pandemic as a major contributor to the increase in addiction-related health problems.

West Virginia’s two U.S. senators, Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, have in the past supported federal efforts to address the drug epidemic, such as $640,000 in funding announced a few weeks ago for medication-assisted treatment programs. It is essential that they maximize this moment to support an extension of the expanded child tax credit with full refundability for families seeking treatment for substance use disorder.

For West Virginia and other states struggling with high rates of substance use disorder, these funds can make a decisive and magnificent difference. Rev. Patterson reminds us that “we must realize what the (expanded) Child Tax Credit means for those families who are dealing with that, but it means a great deal.” The time is now to make expanded child tax credit a permanent fixture in the economic recovery package.

The Rev. Ron English is president of the Charleston chapter of the NAACP.

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