The Proposed American Rescue Plan – A Call to Action
January 21, 2021
Yesterday, the United States of America conducted a peaceful transition of power to the Biden Harris Administration. This transition represents so many first and so much hope that generations of Americans have dreamed of and that is now a reality. However, this transition comes at a time of turmoil with our nation facing the twin crises of pandemic and an economic downturn with the backdrop of racial justice and a time of significant political unrest driven by White supremacy and radicalism. Despite these challenges, which no doubt will take generations to overcome, we must remain hopeful and optimistic. We must keep our focus on the future we envision for our children – one where they can thrive and flourish into healthy and successful adulthood.
We must not lose a moment in working towards relief for the millions of children and families who are struggling in this moment. Our country is currently navigating what economic indicators project to be a K-shaped recovery. In other words, those working in lower-paying occupations are disproportionately impacted by this recession. For example, unemployment for the upper sector of the economy is 5% while those at the lower wage-earning segment have experienced unemployment upwards of 20%. In many cases, these individuals and families are least able to weather a prolonged economic downturn with little to no savings. The nation has seen reports of lines for food pantries miles long with demand outstripping supply and many working parents having to choose between their economic stability and the safety of their children with so many childcare centers limiting capacity and closing shop. Investments are needed now to provide relief to our education sectors, local governments, and struggling businesses. The Biden administration is planning a package building on the down payment made in December that will solely focus on economic recovery.
In response to these significant challenges, the Biden Administration has proposed a set of relief funding and programs which are consistent with calls made by the Children’s Defense Fund in its report, Ending Child Poverty (2019). This pandemic and recession have made action to mitigate the violence of poverty and its growth in our country in this moment even more urgent.
In fact, relief is what is critically needed in this moment. According to analysis conducted by KIDS COUNT, Ohioans will be facing the following challenges as a state in 2021
- Homelessness: Nearly one in six Ohio families with children (15 percent) said they had only slight confidence or no confidence at all that they would be able to make their next rent or mortgage payment on time.
- Food insecurity: 14 percent of Ohio families with children reported in October that there was sometimes or always not enough to eat in their household. Sadly, this is not new for many families.
- Health: One in fourteen Ohio families with children (7 percent) lack health insurance.
- Mental Health: A fifth of Ohio respondents with children in their households (23 percent) reported that they had felt down, depressed or hopeless
- Child care: According to analyses from the Center for American Progress, Ohio families are at risk of losing access to childcare with Ohio losing nearly half of its capacity in this past ten months.
- Unemployment: In December, 2020, despite a strong stock market, the economy has not yet rounded the corner and Ohio has lost an additional 30,000 jobs in that month.
In response, the incoming Biden Administration announced its federal stimulus package, the American Rescue Plan, on January 14th. The following is a brief summary of the package with certain items highlighted that speak directly to children and families and critical supports needed to maintain economic stability.
The relief bill is divided into three main component that focus on the pandemic and vaccinations, relief to individuals who are struggling financially, and support to communities and businesses. Below is a summary:
- $400 billion for dealing with the coronavirus, including vaccines and testing;
- $1 trillion in direct relief to families; and
- $400 billion in aid to communities and businesses. It includes money for testing, vaccines, and public health workers.
- $400 a week in extended federal unemployment insurance through September; rental assistance; emergency paid leave; and funding for schools reopening, among other items.
- $1,400 in stimulus checks, bringing the total this year to $2,000.
Background: Congress passed two COVID-19 specific relief bills – the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (March 18, 2020) and the $2.2 trillion CARES Act (June 3, 2020) and $900 billion in relief in late December, which was wrapped into a continuing appropriations bill. This piece of legislation is being viewed as a down payment in that many economists believe that it did not go far enough in providing relief to struggling Americans and state and local governments.
The American Rescue Plan is a $1.9 trillion relief bill, which has been reported to be more than twice the size of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was passed in response to the Great Recession. A criticism of that 2009 bill was that it did not go far enough and prolonged the recession.
The challenge facing this administration is that the U.S. is facing not only an economic downturn but a pandemic simultaneously, therefore this legislation and any subsequent legislation must address both crisis.
Public Health & the Pandemic
Vaccinations: Let’s be clear, vaccines don’t save lives, vaccinations do. We need a coordinated and aggressive plan to make sure as many people are vaccinated as quickly as possible.
- $20 billion in a national vaccination program in partnership with states, localities, tribes, and territories, including creating community vaccination centers and mobile vaccination units.
- $50 billionto expand testing, including rapid tests, expanded lab capacities, and help for schools and local governments.
- $10 billion to manufacture pandemic supplies domestically,
- $30 billion to the Disaster Relief Fund for supplies and protective gear.
Public Health Jobs: The public health infrastructure must be strengthened to drive vaccination efforts and to provide credible voices in many of our Black, Brown, and rural communities who have vaccine hesitancy or face barriers to accessing health services.
- Fund 100,000 health workers to expand the public health workforce.
- Funding for health services to underserved populations and those who live in congregate settings, such as nursing homes.
Reopening Schools: Children have faced disruptions in their lives with the closing of schools and everyday routines that provide a sense of stability and care. Opening schools must be done in a way that is safe for both children and their teachers. Providing access to vaccines and funding to support safe reopening and stability in services is critical in this time.
- $130 billion to help schools reopen safely,
- $35 billion in funding for higher education, and
- $5 billion for governors to use to support educational programs for those hardest hit by Covid-19.
Support for Struggling Individuals and Families: Stable families and communities are the bedrock of our society and economic challenges have shaken the foundation of so many families. The pandemic and economic downturn has exposed the significant shortcomings in our societal supports and safety nets for our children and families.
- Expands paid sick leave to 106 million more Americans, including renewing the expired requirement for employers to provide leave and expanding emergency paid leave to federal workers.
- Adds $1,400 to the last round of approved stimulus checks ($600) so they total $2,000. These additional payments will also include support to adults left out of the last rounds and to mixed status families that were also excluded in previous bills.
- Increases the current unemployment payments (currently at $300) to an additional $400 through September and includes benefits to individuals who would not normally qualify, such as contractors or freelancers.
- Extends eviction and foreclosure moratoriums through September, directing $30 billion toward rental assistance, and $5 billion in emergency assistance to secure housing for the homeless.
- Extends the 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits through September, investing $3 billion in the special supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and providing US territories with $1 billion in nutritional assistance.
- Delivers a $25 billion emergency stabilization fund for child care providers and an additional $15 billion to the Child Care and Development Block Grant Program.
- Expands the child tax credit to $3,000 per child up to age 17 and $3,600 for children under the age of 6. The proposal also expands the earned income tax credit from about $530 to $1,500 and expands eligibility.
- Increases the minimum wage to $15 per hour, ends the tipped minimum wage and sub-minimum wage for people with disabilities, and provisions for employers to provide hazard pay.
Small Business Support: Family wellbeing relies on a functioning economy and our small businesses are its backbone. Economic stability is needed and focus on small businesses is critical to retaining jobs.
- $15 billion in grants to hard-hit small businesses and leverages $35 billion in government funds into $175 billion in loans and investment in small businesses.
State and local governments: Local governments are the frontline in terms of offering critical service for children and families. However, many are struggling in terms of revenues and services and we must make sure that they are prepared to serve their communities safely and effectively.
- Provides $350 billion in funds for state, local, and territorial governments. It’s framed as money that will help pay front-line workers, reopen schools, and get people vaccinated.
- $20 billion in relief for public transit agencies
- $20 billion to support tribal governments’ pandemic response
The coming days and months require action and deliberate focus to make sure the U.S. emerges from the pandemic, the recession, begins to address racial justice and inequities, and political unrest. The incoming administration cannot lose a moment nor can it be distracted from its mission. Together, we must all work on behalf of the children and families and support their well-being and safety and nurture and work towards a vision of a more just and equitable nation – one that is worthy of our children.
KIDS COUNT. (Dec 14, 2020). Kids, Families, and COVID-19. COVID-19 Accessed from: https://www.aecf.org/resources/kids-families-and-covid-19/
Ending Child Poverty Now (2019). Accessed from: https://staging.childrensdefense.org/policy/resources/overview/
Stewart, Emily. (January 14, 2021). Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 stimulus plan, explained. Accessed from https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/22231808/joe-biden-economic-stimulus-proposal
Smaialek, Jiana. (January 14, 2021). A Look at What’s in Biden’s $1.9 Trillion Stimulus Plan. Accessed from: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/14/business/economy/biden-stimulus-plan.html