Emerging from the pandemic: How we place America’s children and families on a path to prosperity
Editor’s note: This is the final in a series of blog posts examining how the pandemic has affected children, youth, and young adults in the U.S.
Emerging from the pandemic will neither be easy for America nor for America’s children. Many have experienced hunger and live in households anxious over possible eviction. Many have not been able to learn effectively without adequate access to the internet. Children of color and children in families with low incomes have been disproportionately harmed, sometimes by the deaths of loved ones from COVID-19. But the groundbreaking proposals put forth by the Biden Administration give us hope that America’s children and families will have the resources and programs they need to place them on a path toward recovery and prosperity.
President Biden’s American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan provide comprehensive help for children, youth, and young adults. They first of all recognize that children live in families, and cannot thrive without improving the economic security of those families, in large part through expanded job opportunities, supplements to income, affordable food, health care and housing, and access to supports that make work possible, such as child care and paid leave.
The Biden Administration’s approach to creating such opportunity is somewhat of a novel approach for federal-level policy, with a distinct focus on racial justice. If the pandemic has made more people economically vulnerable, then perhaps the exposure of a gap-filled safety net gives Biden the platform he needs to enact sweeping change.
One constituent commented on the ongoing hunger struggle in a New York Times article. “I wish that the lawmakers would have realized prior to us being in a pandemic that poor people needed more,” she said. “It took more of the middle class, and some of the upper class, to find that they needed help for people to act. For me to go in and tell the Indiana Legislature, ‘Hey, guys, $75 isn’t enough to eat for a week,’ that’s going to be a real hard sell. But when the whole world is suffering, that’s a different situation.”
The expansion of SNAP and child nutrition benefits are examples of how policy decisions being made right now will promote long-term solutions. The Administration is pursuing innovative solutions, such as an EBT program to replace meals lost due to school closures and in the summer as well as increases in SNAP benefits and expanded access to free school meals.
Such expansive approaches are crucial to program success, and they must be implemented to ensure that they reach disproportionately poor communities of color. A Children’s Health Watch study drew connections between mothers’ experiences of discrimination and household food insecurity, poor physical health, and depressive symptoms. President Biden’s push for investment in infrastructure, including schools, broadband, housing, environmental clean-ups, and care work as well as transportation projects lays the groundwork for more jobs for parents and safe environments for children. This and long-term investments in education, training, health care and other supports provides a comprehensive and structural approach.
This dedication is clearly seen in his American Families Plan. Strategically unveiled after the American Rescue Plan and American Jobs Plan, we see more evidence of the long-term commitment to equity. While the American Rescue Plan provided emergency assistance for nutrition, housing, child care, and student loans, much like his first infrastructure plan, this legislation will, if passed, provide the groundwork for maintaining boosts to economic security in more sustainable ways.
The child tax credit gained a well-deserved spotlight as a key instrument in fighting poverty for families: poverty researchers at Columbia University and elsewhere estimate the temporary expansion in the American Rescue Plan would cut child poverty in half – but only for a year. Now, the American Families Plan proposes to extend that impressive gain through 2025. It would also make permanent an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit for workers without children, allowing 19-24 year olds to qualify, and increasing the benefit. This will be of major assistance to young people with low incomes.
But President Biden doesn’t stop there. He would provide support for free community college, increased child care subsidies, universal preschool, and paid family and medical leave. Perhaps one of the most transformative aspects of this plan is its funding — these programs would be funded by increasing taxes on people with high incomes, including beefed-up enforcement so the rich are less able to avoid paying what they owe.
Throughout this series, Voices for Human Needs has documented serious, pandemic-related problems that adversely affect children and families, among the pandemic’s most vulnerable people. Amidst a storm of structural inequity, hunger, increased poverty rates, disrupted education, and decreased job prospects, the future in the waning days of the Trump Administration looked bleak for an adequate federal response. However, Biden’s comprehensive and race-conscious approaches to social policy provide a glimpse into what we can hope will be transformative, building economic justice and the conditions in which children can thrive.
Biden’s proposals are not law. Congress has to act if we are to realize this historic opportunity. If members of Congress understand that their actions are urgently needed to ensure that our children, youth, and young adults recover and prosper, they will build on and enact the Biden plans.
To see what the Coalition on Human Needs has said about the American Families Plan, go here. For a summary of ten ways the American Families Plan helps families with low incomes and children, go here.