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The U.S. economy has arrived at a fork in the road. Will our nation — the world’s richest — continue to allow millions of our children to live in poverty while the ultra-rich few amass ever-larger fortunes? Or will we marshal our country’s vast resources to ensure that everyone has the tools they need to fulfill their full potential?

Congress is hammering out a budget deal right now that will move us forward on one of these forks. For West Virginians, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Down one fork lies a stronger care infrastructure. With our nation’s third-oldest population, West Virginia would benefit enormously from proposed investments to eliminate long waiting lists for affordable home care.

That’s true not just for families with seniors to take care of, but also children. In a recent Charleston Gazette-Mail op-ed, high school teacher Christy Judd shared her story of having to move out of West Virginia to find the home care her family needs. “I had no more leave to take off from work, and neither did my husband,” she wrote. “We were out of options. Our only solution was to move.”

Other proposed investments would expand child care benefits, give all 3- and 4-year-old children the opportunity to attend pre-K, and extend the temporary child tax credit that reduced West Virginia’s child poverty rate by an estimated 43% this year.

Fixing our nation’s physical infrastructure is also critical. But if you want people to build bridges, they need to have affordable, quality care for their loved ones. And after a lifetime of physical work, they deserve the chance to grow old safely in their own homes.

Some key lawmakers worry we can’t afford these kinds of investments. But tax proposals in play on Capitol Hill would raise trillions of dollars for vital investments over the next decade without raising an extra nickel from anyone who makes less than $400,000 per year.

Some revenue proposals would even do double duty by discouraging corporate practices that put all of us at risk. For decades, West Virginians have watched as CEOs chasing big bonuses have recklessly contributed to human disasters, from the 2008 financial crash to deadly mining accidents and the opioid epidemic.

Long-time McKesson CEO John Hammergren, for example, made nearly $700 million between 2007 and 2017 as he and other big drug distributors flooded the state with highly addictive painkillers.

One proposal on the budget negotiating table would place a levy on large companies with huge gaps between CEO and worker pay. This would give corporate leaders a choice: either narrow their gaps by reining in CEO bonuses and raising worker wages or contribute more revenue for vital public investments.

Another option on the budget-debate table: a surtax on the accumulated wealth of billionaires like the super rich of the Sackler family, the clan that made a literal killing off the aggressive marketing of OxyContin. Overall, U.S. billionaires have seen their combined wealth increase by $1.8 trillion during the pandemic.

Shouldn’t they chip in to support getting the rest of the economy back on its feet? We can continue to let our billionaires run wild. Or we can move to meet the needs of average working families, in West Virginia and all around our nation.

We haven’t faced a choice this stark since Franklin Roosevelt’s time. Our ancestors chose wisely back then and created the foundation for the world’s first mass middle class. We’ve let that foundation crumble. Now lawmakers have a chance to fix it.

Sarah Anderson and Sam Pizzigati are co-editors of Inequality.org at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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