How the American Rescue Plan created a more just America
The Biden Administration this week released a detailed report laying out not just how the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) helped the country recover from the coronavirus pandemic and the pandemic-related recession, but also took historic steps to promote racial and income equity.
The 301-page report covers 32 different programs from the ARP, which represents about 60 percent of the $1.9 trillion authorized (most of the remaining funds came in the form of economic stimulus checks).
The report details how the ARP’s implementation has worked to achieve equity through decreasing unemployment among people of color, reducing child poverty, helping small businesses, providing housing assistance, keeping schools open safely, reducing health disparities, investing in Tribal communities and more.
The report in particular highlighted gains in Black and Latino unemployment rates and the overwhelming success of the expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC), which led to record-low child poverty rates. Researchers project that the CTC will have been the leading factor in driving the child poverty rate to its lowest rate on record in 2021—and resulting in record low Hispanic and Black child poverty rates. In addition, monthly CTC payments helped reduce food insufficiency among low-income families by 25 percent.
The report was accompanied by a detailed White House briefing which featured Cabinet secretaries, elected officials, and three advocates, each of whom represents a CHN member organization.
Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition and one of the advocates who spoke at the briefing, worked closely with Biden Administration officials to achieve something that had never been done before – getting a $46.5 billion rental assistance program up and running. To put this challenge into perspective, after the 2008 Great Recession began, Congress provided roughly $1 billion in rental relief, or just over 2 percent of what the ARP offered.
Yentel explained that there was an urgency to the work because, even though a national moratorium on evictions was in place, it was challenged in court almost immediately, and indeed eventually was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court – so Biden Administration officials and housing advocates knew they must funnel the money to those in need as quickly as possible.
“We worked closely with the White House across the Administration as well as state and local partners and impacted people to build a new national infrastructure to get these resources to the tenants most in need to keep them stably housed,” Yentel said. “It got off to a slow start. It was slow work to build staff and administer major new program during the global pandemic, and it takes time to design effective programs that center people with the lowest (incomes) and people of color, which was always our priority. We backed and analyzed programs as they got up and running, ultimately tracking over 500 emergency rental assistance programs throughout the country.”
Yentel said government leaders and advocates worked together to develop ways to make it as easy as possible for renters to apply for assistance – engaging in robust and equitable outreach, providing short, simple applications available in multiple formats, limiting burdensome documentation requirements, and allowing renters to self-attest that they were eligible for aid, for example.
“Some program administrators implemented these features early on and others were resistant for a variety of reasons,” Yentel noted.
But in the end, despite the slow start, 5.3 million rental assistance payments have been made, a majority of which went to people with the lowest incomes and to people of color. “And that doesn’t happen by chance, especially when we’re working so quickly,” Yentel said. “It happens only with really deliberate and purposeful program designed. And the full Biden Administration encouraged and enabled it.”
Dorian Warren, Co-President of Community Change, discussed his group’s efforts to promote the expanded Child Tax Credit, a program that is close to his heart and central to Community Change’s mission of combating poverty – after all, the group was involved way back in the spring of 2001 when the CTC was first established.
“The expanded Child Tax Credit was a boon for low- and no-income families who were struggling to make ends meet even before the pandemic,” Warren said. “And the notion that, yes, we could reduce child poverty by half, especially (among) Black and Brown kids is super important to who we are and our mission.”
Warren said Community Change’s outreach efforts to publicize the credit “provided an opportunity for us to show ordinary people a different way in which government could improve their lives. It was direct. We helped to make it visible.”
And, Warren said, he and his colleagues and allies learned things along the way. “We had to test the idea that we could build a constituency that was disconnected from government, particularly people who had not filed taxes, if we could connect them during the outreach, we could connect them to government and keep them engaged civically…We learned a lot about fear and shame that people have around the IRS administering cash benefits. We learned that we needed trusted messengers and trusted experts, people who could help ordinary folks who maybe hadn’t filed in a little while navigate the tax system.”
Warren said Community Change focused on a “high-tech and high-touch” approach to its work. High-tech, because the group waged a robust digital campaign. “We also did the ‘high-touch’ work, going to watering holes where people are, day care, barbershops, beauty salons,” he said. “And experimenting with new tools – we did a whole Tik Tok effort and campaign.”
Also discussing CTC outreach efforts was Eric Rodriguez, Senior Vice President, Policy and advocacy, of UnidosUS, which focused particularly on Puerto Rico. That was a Herculean task, as the new, expanded CTC increased the eligibility of Puerto Rican families with children from 10 percent to 97 percent.
“This is the first time (many families had) access to the credit, which meant a lot of new things had to be put in place, infrastructure, partners,” he said. “You can’t have success unless you’re talking to people who have presence in the communities you are trying to help.”
Rodriguez credits the Biden Administration for its flexibility in its Puerto Rican outreach.
“Communication is two ways, right?” he said. “It’s not just people on the outside just saying, hey, you’re going about it wrong. It’s hearing back and seeing some changes happening in real-time, meaning flexibility is a must. We all learned something during the pandemic about capacity and speed and urgency and how to get there. And we’ve gotten better at it. So I’m happy to say we made a very, very good effort.”