CHN: Historic Build Back Better Act Passes House

Advocates celebrated the House passage of the historic Build Back Better Act on Nov. 19. The bill (H.R. 5376) will make major investments to reduce child poverty by 40 percent, expand access to health care, expand affordable housing, and promote broadly shared economic security, with special attention to the needs of people with low incomes, communities of color, and immigrant families. All but one Democrat supported with package; Rep. Jared Golden of Maine was the lone Democrat to join all Republicans in opposing the bill. In a statement, CHN’s Executive Director Deborah Weinstein said, “The House majority has exercised and called for responsible stewardship of our nation and our future, by making investments that will pay off for years to come, and by insisting that the rich and corporations start to pay their fair share.”

There will likely still be changes to the bill made in the Senate, both to comply with strict Senate rules and to ensure all Democrats – including Sens. Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) – and Independents will vote for it. Three provisions that are most likely to change include paid leave, immigration, and taxes; see below for more details. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said his aim is to see the bill pass the Senate before Christmas. There is speculation that the bill could be on the Senate floor the week of December 6. If changes are indeed made in the Senate, the amended bill will need to pass the House again before President Biden can sign it into law.

Below are just a few of the celebrated provisions in the Build Back Better Act:

Health care: The House-passed bill includes provisions to close the Medicaid coverage gap by providing a pathway to coverage for more than 2 million low-income people in the 12 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), through 2025. It also includes $150 billion for Medicaid home- and community-based services (HCBS), helping some of the 800,000 people currently on waiting lists for home care services. It expands Medicare to include coverage of hearing aids. It also allows the government to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for a subset of drugs in Medicare Part B and Part D and caps some Medicare out-of-pocket drug costs, including a cap on insulin costs to $35 per month. Nine million people will see reduced health insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act. For more information, see this piece from Families USA.

Child care and paid leave: The bill provides free universal preschool free for 3- and 4-year-olds (helping families of 6 million children) and lowers the cost of child care, capping child care costs at 7 percent of income for middle class families (affecting 20 million children). The House-passed bill would provide four weeks of paid family and medical leave for all U.S. workers, down from 12 weeks in an earlier proposal. Sen. Manchin has said he opposes this being in the bill, so it remains unclear if this provision will survive the Senate.

Low-income tax credits: The bill extends the American Rescue Plan’s Child Tax Credit (CTC) increase (to $3,000-$3,600 per child) for one year, affecting 61 million children in 39 million families, and ensures children in the poorest families will be able to claim the full CTC on a permanent basis. It also allows immigrant children with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) to qualify for the CTC again and extends for one year the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) increase for 17 million low-paid workers not raising children at home, including younger workers and those over 65, who were previously excluded. The Build Back Better legislation would also provide its Child Tax Credit expansions to all the U.S. territories and provides the territories with funds to administer the EITC.

Housing: The bill includes $150 billion for rental vouchers, public housing maintenance, and the Housing Trust Fund. This includes $25 billion to expand rental assistance to more than 300,000 additional households with the greatest needs, including $24 billion for Housing Choice Vouchers; $65 billion to preserve public housing for more than 2 million residents; and $15 billion for the national Housing Trust Fund to preserve or build more than 150,000 rental homes affordable to households with extremely low incomes. See the National Low Income Housing Coalition for additional housing investments included in BBBA.

Immigration reform/citizenship: After the Senate Parliamentarian twice ruled that a pathway to citizenship cannot be pursued under the special rules of the reconciliation process, which is being used to allow the Build Back Better Act to be enacted with only a simple majority in the Senate, the House bill contains a “Plan C.” The bill will provide five-year work permits and protection from deportation to close to 7 million undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for at least a decade. Some advocates are urging the Democratic leadership in the Senate to overturn the Parliamentarian’s recommendation if no version of immigration reform is approved for inclusion in the reconciliation bill; others are urging the majority to reject the recommendations against including reforms that provide a pathway to citizenship.

Hunger/food and nutrition: The House bill expands the number of schools that would be able to offer free meals to all students, helping nearly 9 million students; extends Summer EBT nationwide for students who receive free or reduced-price school meals; and provides funding to increase access to healthier foods.

Climate and the environment: The House-passed bill includes $550 billion to combat climate change, including tax credits to help both people and companies invest in and transition to clean energy solutions. The White House estimates the BBBA will lead to a cut in greenhouse gas emissions roughly 50% lower than 2005 levels. The bill includes a new Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator that will invest in environmental justice projects. For example, Native and Indigenous groups will be able to receive millions in aid and grants to help tribes develop climate resilience plans and recover from extreme weather events.

Tax justice/fair revenues: The House bill will require a 15 percent corporate minimum tax to stop wealthy corporations from altogether dodging their fair share of taxes; end some corporate tax breaks that encourage the outsourcing of jobs and the shifting of profits to tax havens; impose a surtax on people making more than $10 million a year; and improve IRS enforcement of tax laws to close the gap between taxes owed and collected. The bill increases the 2017 tax law’s cap on the amount of state and local taxes (SALT) that filers can deduct when calculating their federal taxes from $10,000 to $80,000 through 2030. The Senate may replace this provision with an alternative approach to exempt people below a certain income threshold from the $10,000 cap.

Education: The bill will provide free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds over a 10-year period and increase Pell grants, college aid targeted to students with low/moderate incomes. It also invests in colleges that serve large numbers of Black, Indigenous, Latino, and Asian and Pacific Islander students.

Praise for the package from advocates was swift. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said, “Today’s vote brings us a critical step closer to delivering policy advances that help families meet everyday challenges such as paying rent and putting food on the table, affording child care and preschool, securing health coverage, and paying for college.” The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) said, “By sharply reducing poverty, investing in long undervalued caregiving, and increasing access to good jobs and educational opportunities, the legislation offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to vastly expand economic opportunity and advance racial and gender equity.” Feeding America said, “These provisions will provide significant help toward helping children who often do not know where they will get their next meal, particularly in communities of color who suffer disproportionately from hunger.”

For statements, analyses, state fact sheets, and more about the Build Back Better Act from CHN members and partners, see CHN’s Build Back Better resource page. For more information about what was in the initial House version of the Build Back Better Act, see the October 11 Human Need Report. For compromises previously considered in the Senate, see the October 26 Human Needs Report.