While North Carolina’s state legislature lurches towards passage of a budget, Congress has been hammering out the details of a complicated spending deal on infrastructure and social spending. Child advocates are watching this process closely. Some of the components of this legislation have the potential to dramatically cut child poverty and boost prospects for the nation’s children – particularly the nearly 12 million kids nationwide who live below the poverty line.
Some of the highest-impact items for kids are contained in what Democrats in Congress are calling the “Build Back Better” Act. US House committees are working on different parts of the sweeping legislation now. They released more details last week on what will be in the House version of the bill, and we are very excited. Here are three huge highlights of the plan for our kids:
1. Make the expanded Child Tax Credit permanent
Through the American Rescue Plan passed in March, the Child Tax Credit was increased from $3,000 to $3,600 per child for qualifying families. Even more importantly, the credit was extended to the lowest-income families. Many families were previously unable to claim the credit, because their incomes were too low to require them to file taxes.
Economists estimate that in 2021 the expanded Child Tax Credit will cut child poverty in half in the United States. Recent data from the US Census Bureau illustrate that hunger dropped dramatically among families with children once the payments began going out in July 2021. In North Carolina, the expanded credit is expected to lift more than 140,000 children above the poverty line this year. Making the credit’s expansion permanent would have a dramatic impact for hundreds of thousands of North Carolina’s children.
The Children’s Defense Fund has a great action hub, making it easy to speak up for permanently expanding the Child Tax Credit. Speak up today!
2. Lower the cost of child care for working families
The Build Back Better Act would invest roughly $450 billion in lowering the cost of child care, and securing universal pre-K for three- and four-year-olds. The legislation’s goal is that the majority of families would not pay more than 7% of their income on child care for children 5 and under. That is a far cry from what many families pay now, as child care often costs more than a family’s rent or mortgage payment each month. The legislation also aims to raise wages for early education teachers to a minimum of $15/hour.
Take Action: Tell Congress child care deserves a raise! Use our action alert to connect with NC’s congressional delegation about why child care & early education deserve a big increase in the federal budget.
3. Close the “Coverage Gap” in non-Medicaid expansion states
The Build Back Better Act proposes to ensure that the 4 million uninsured Americans living in non-expansion states like North Carolina have access to health coverage. From 2022 through 2024, the legislation would extend the Affordable Care Act’s premium tax credits to below 100% of the federal poverty line and provide cost-sharing assistance. The act would permanently expand Medicaid eligibility to everyone in the coverage gap, beginning in 2025.
In North Carolina, hundreds of thousands of adults – many of them parents with children at home – would finally qualify for health coverage under this plan. Medical debt is now the leading source of household debt for families in non-expansion states. Providing affordable health coverage through Medicaid expansion has been shown to significantly boost household economic security.
Additional measures for kids
The Build Back Better Act contains more provisions that will increase opportunity for the nation’s children. You can get more details in these new fact sheets released last week by the House Education & Labor Committee (fact sheet here) and the House Energy and Commerce Committee (read fact sheet here).
- Permanent reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and a requirement that children enrolled in CHIP & Medicaid are continuously eligible for 12-months at a time;
- Permanently extending Medicaid eligibility for new mothers for 12 months post-partum;
- 12 weeks of paid parent, family, and sick leave;
- $82 billion towards the nation’s public school infrastructure, investing in repairs and facilities in the poorest schools first;
- $35 million to expand child nutrition programs, including school meals and summer programs;
- $30 billion for the full replacement of lead service lines in drinking water systems throughout the country;
- Several measures aimed at combatting climate change; and more.
As the House and Senate lock horns over this legislation, there is a lot here worth fighting for. But before the legislation can advance, there are many challenges to overcome: The House must pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was approved by the Senate in August. Both chambers must vote to lift the debt ceiling. And House leadership will have to make some concessions to moderates in the Senate who don’t like the $3.5 trillion price tag (which would be paid for by rescinding Trump-era tax cuts on households earning over $400K/year).
Deadlines are looming, as committees are required to submit their drafts to House budget writers by September 15th. This is an important time to make your voice heard for long-term investments in our families and communities.