Elizabeth Masters isn’t a natural Joe Biden supporter. A self-described conservative who lives in Parkersburg, in deeply Republican West Virginia, she said she registered to vote in the last election so she could cast a ballot for Donald Trump.
Masters says she doesn’t approve when people “just stand for a handout” – she doesn’t think the United States should be spending money on undocumented immigrants, for example – but says anything that will “help people that are trying to do for themselves, I’m all for it”.
To that end, Masters has found herself supportive of efforts by the Biden administration to pass a $3.5tn budget proposal that is full of ambitious plans to help poorer and working class Americans on a range of social issues from childcare to healthcare.
Though vehemently opposed by Republicans and West Virginia’s own Democratic senator, Joe Manchin, there is some evidence that the proposals contained in the spending plans – which some have likened to the 1930s New Deal – are more popular among grassroots Republicans than their political representatives. That may be especially true in West Virginia, which is a poor, largely white and working class state whose residents would stand to greatly benefit from the Biden effort.
That is why Masters says she supports the Child Tax Credit, the monthly payments from the IRS given to families with children making less than $200,000. The Build Back Better plan would make the credits permanent.
Masters and her husband recently took out a loan to repair the roof on their house, only to lose the home in a fire. They did not have insurance, so they are still paying on the loan. The Child Tax Credit payment she receives each month for her nine-year-old son covers that loan every month.
Biden’s budget bill includes his Build Back Better plan, which would cut taxes for most Americans, raise taxes on the rich, train more workers and lower costs for healthcare, childcare, education and housing.
When the nonpartisan nonprofit WorkMoney surveyed more than 50,000 of its 2 million members nationwide, it found 81% of respondents said they supported this plan. That includes 90% of liberals who took the survey, 81% of moderates and 66% of conservatives.
Conservative backing appears even more robust in West Virginia, home of Manchin, a moderate Democrat who is one of the critical holdouts on the budget bill and whose efforts could derail the entire plan – or see large chunks of it scrapped as he balks at the budget’s price tag.
But according to the survey, 80% of more than 800 people surveyed in his home state believe he should vote to pass the bill. That includes 77% of conservatives who responded to the survey.
Amy Shafer of Elkview, West Virginia, has also seen the benefit of the tax credit. She’s a single mother with three kids who works as a part-time cashier. She recently missed weeks of work after a cancer diagnosis. Shafer had surgery to remove the tumor but then, after she recovered, she and two of her children got Covid-19 and had to be quarantined for 10 days.
Shafer did not receive a paycheck during this time.
The Child Tax Credit “helped me keep my house,” she said. “It helped pay my electric, it paid my water and it paid my sewer.”
The CTC also paid for her children’s back-to-school clothes when the family’s state-issued clothing vouchers didn’t arrive in time.
Shafer has voted for both Manchin and Trump in the past, though she isn’t affiliated with either party at the moment. She is frustrated by elected officials in Washington who, she says, are dragging their feet on programs that would help working class people like her.
“I would want any of them to take one day in my shoes,” she said. “Do what I do and see if it’s anything like their lifestyle.”
John Findlay, executive director of the West Virginia Republican party, denied that Biden’s efforts are popular in his home state. “If it was close to reality, the bill already would have passed,” he said.
Findlay says his office has fielded lots of calls and emails about the bill and everyone seems to share the same opinion. “No one’s calling in favor of it. Literally, of the emails and phone calls we get, every one we get is opposed to it,” he said.
But Joseph A Scalise of Terra Alta, West Virginia, says politicians are out of touch.
“We’re dealing with people who are wealthy. What do they understand about people like ourselves who are trying to keep their heads above water?” said Scalise, who says he is a conservative Republican who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020. “It’s time for them to stop having these little wars among each other and start thinking about the American people again.”
Scalise, 67, once worked as a welder in the coal mines, a good-paying job. Now he is a health aid for children with disabilities, making $13 an hour. He says he supports the Build Back Better plan because its proposed changes to healthcare will help the families he serves and improvements to the nation’s infrastructure will get more people back to work.