Biden Economy Poverty Race

The New Yorker: The Biden Plan Includes a Genuine Anti-Poverty Program

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Sheelah Kolhatkar, a staff writer for The New Yorker, describes the most remarkable part of the Biden COVID rescue plan: its income payments for children. The fate of this experiment depends on electing enough Democrats in 2022 to extend it into the future and convincing Republicans that the program is so popular that they should support it. Now that the legislation has been passed, Biden must work hard to forge a bipartisan coalition to make it permanent.

On Tuesday, March 9th, Amy Castro Baker stood on her front porch and watched as her two teen-age children boarded a bus and went off to school together for the first time in a year. Her sense of relief was profound. Baker, a researcher of economic mobility and an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice, had been through a challenging period familiar to most parents—and especially to working mothers. For the past year, she had balanced the demands of a full-time job with overseeing her kids’ online schooling, while also cooking, cleaning, and running the household as a single parent. “We’re at the point in my home where it’s a choice between what’s higher risk, covid or my kids’ mental health,” Baker said. “I’m not sure I could have handled another month.” These are the kinds of difficulties that the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9-trillion pandemic-relief bill recently passed by Congress, was designed to address. Benefits in the bill could help millions of families who are facing similar challenges and are living under much greater financial precarity.

The bill, which was signed by President Joe Biden on Thursday, offers a variety of benefits intended to address economic hardship caused by the pandemic. No Republicans voted for the legislation, largely based on the argument that the pandemic will end soon and the economy doesn’t need the help. And it’s true that some aspects of the legislation go beyond the demands of the pandemic, addressing economic disparities that existed before covid-19 hit. The bill includes provisions to give one-time, fourteen-hundred-dollar payments to individuals earning fewer than eighty thousand dollars a year, and to increase unemployment insurance by three hundred dollars per week until early September. But it is the plan’s expanded, fully refundable child tax credit—which is worth thirty-six hundred dollars for each child under age six and three thousand dollars for those aged six to seventeen—that has the greatest potential to change the way that the United States addresses poverty.

A typical child tax credit can only be claimed by people earning enough money to pay taxes in the first place, which excludes those with an earned income of fewer than twenty-five hundred dollars—in other words, those in the most dire need. The new child tax credit works differently: starting in July, the federal government will send cash each month, until December, to parents for every child that they have regardless of the family’s employment status, and the remaining balance will be disbursed once families file their taxes next year. “It will actually maintain and lift living standards for millions of women and their children,” Heidi Shierholz, a senior economist and director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute, told me, adding that she hopes the credit will eventually become a permanent benefit. “There’s also a massive racial-justice angle here, too. This will disproportionately help families of color, and it will disproportionately bring Black kids and Hispanic kids out of poverty. This is groundbreaking.”

In some ways, the credit resembles much debated proposals to set up a universal-basic-income program, which would send cash to families every month to help them get by. Such a program never seemed possible in the United States, but lessons from the 2008 financial crisis, the Trump Presidency, and the pandemic have changed what policymakers are willing to try. “It signals a turn in the way that we approach alleviating poverty and supporting the unpaid care work of women that makes the economy move,” Baker told me.

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