How Biden’s relief bill is changing America’s approach to poverty
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This piece was originally published in the March 9, 2021 edition of CAP Action’s daily newsletter, the Progress Report. Subscribe to the Progress Report here.
“You’re just gonna have to ask the virus.”
— Speaker Pelosi, asked whether this would be the last major COVID relief bill
Biden’s economic relief bill isn’t just the bare minimum to get us through this pandemic.
It’s a sign of the progress that can be made during his administration to tackle longstanding crises like poverty and wealth inequality.
IN THE NEWS
- Biden’s American Rescue Plan passed the Senate on Saturday without a single Republican vote. After cycling through several rounds of amendments in both chambers, the version of the plan that just passed the Senate is effectively the final version of the $1.9 trillion relief package. Let’s break down what it will do to help people, with the help of our policy expert friends over at CAP.
- It extends the federal cash boost for unemployed people. A year into this pandemic, there are still tens of millions of people out of work across the United States. Under the Senate-passed version of this bill, federal supplemental unemployment benefits will be extended through September 6 and come out to $300/week on top of any state-level aid. This was arguably the most urgent provision of the bill, given that the last extension of federal unemployment benefits is set to expire on March 14.
- It massively expands the child tax credit. This is, as our president would say, a BFD. Under Biden’s plan, most parents would receive direct payments of $300 per child each month. This expansion, which progressives have fought for over years, will profoundly improve the lives of kids and families that have faced enormous struggles during this pandemic. As the New York Times put it, the changes to the child tax credit under the American Rescue Plan are essentially “a guaranteed income for families with children, akin to children’s allowances that are common in other rich countries.” No wonder this bill is expected to cut child poverty in half.
- It will send $1,400 checks to millions of Americans. To find out if you’ll get a check, check out this great resource from the Washington Post that breaks down the various terms of this latest round of stimulus payments. Simply sending money to people is one of the most effective ways to keep people from being forced into poverty.
- Experts are calling the American Rescue Plan the most significant legislation for Black farmers since the Civil Rights Act. According to the Washington Post, systemic racism and the vicious cycle of debt have resulted in Black farmers losing a whopping 90% of their land over the past century. This bill allocates $5 billion to helping farmers of color through debt relief, grants, education, training, and more. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack applauded the funding, pointing out that “on top of the economic pain caused by the pandemic, farmers from socially disadvantaged communities are dealing with a disproportionate share of Covid-19 infection rates, hospitalizations, death and economic hurt.”
- It also happens to include the largest federal investment in Native programs in U.S. history. Indigenous and tribal communities have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, so it’s only right that the first major relief package of the new administration invests in their recovery and welfare. The Senate-passed bill includes more than $31 billion for tribal governments and Native communities.
For more lesser known highlights of the American Rescue Plan, don’t miss this great thread from Brian Deese, Director of the White House National Economic Council.
- Although Biden didn’t get everything he’d hoped for in this bill, it is genuinely a big win for progressives, anti-poverty advocates, the economy, kids, workers, public health, unemployed people, parents, and everyone else with an interest in helping people escape economic hardship. This bill is a big deal.
- So we all agree this is great. But when is it going to get finalized? Either late tonight or early tomorrow, the House is expected to give the bill its final approval, sending it to Biden’s desk to be signed into law by the end of this week. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a coordinated legislative effort end in a positive outcome for the American people, so it’s understandable if we’re a little fuzzy on how this all works.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
- Biden signed an executive order to promote voting rights on Sunday, which he described as a “first step” toward protecting the right of every citizen to participate in the democratic process. The order was signed on the 56th anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday’, when police violence against civil rights marchers came to a head in Selma, Alabama in 1965. Biden directed the leaders of several agencies to audit their agency’s promotion of voter registration and information.
- As part of the executive order, Biden ordered the Bureau of Prisons to assist eligible incarcerated and returning citizens with the voter registration process and to make sure they know their rights — a policy that could alleviate situations like the disturbing conviction of Crystal Mason, a Black woman in Texas who was arrested after she unknowingly cast an illegal provisional ballot on the advice of a poll worker despite not being able to vote due to her criminal record.
- Biden set a 200-day deadline to upgrade voter registration materials online and ensure they’re accessible to every American. A new task force will convene to assess barriers to voting for people with disabilities, as will a task force on Indigenous communities’ access to the ballot.
- The executive order is a promising sign for democracy reform advocates as to Biden’s commitment to expanding voting access, especially amid increasing barriers to the ballot box and with the Senate set to take up the For the People Act in the coming weeks.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- The Stacey Abrams Effect by Ashley C. Ford (Marie Claire)
- It’s in America’s best interest to lead global COVID-19 vaccine distribution by Cory Booker and Robert Weissman (The Hill)
- For Asian Americans, Sharing Our Grief Is an Act of Revolution by Bianca Mabute-Louie (Elle)
- My Pandemic Year Behind the Checkout Counter by Ann Larson (New Republic)
- Biden To Sign Executive Order Reviewing Betsy DeVos’ Title IX Rules by Alanna Vagianos (HuffPost)
- Navajo Nation forecasts ‘community immunity’: 120,000 jabs given by Creede Newton (Al Jazeera)
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