Guest commentary: Sen. Michael Bennet on how Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill helps cut child poverty
With a stroke of his pen, President Joe Biden launched the most ambitious effort to lift children out of poverty since the New Deal.
The president’s American Rescue Plan, which the president signed today, will cut child poverty almost in half in a single year. It will cut poverty for Hispanic kids by over 45%, for Black kids by over 50%, and for kids living in tribes by over 60%.
This part of the Rescue Plan comes from the American Family Act, a proposal I have worked on for years with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey; and Vice President (and former senator) Kamala Harris to expand the Child Tax Credit and extend it to families that need it most. Under our plan, almost every family in America will receive $3,000 per child and $3,600 per child under age 6.
This is a moral imperative. The United States is the wealthiest society in human history, but we have one of the highest rates of child poverty and one of the lowest rates of economic mobility among developed nations. That combination is brutal for the 10 million American kids in poverty, who are disproportionately from communities of color.
No child chooses to be born poor, but any expert will tell you that growing up in poverty can shape a child’s future in ways that are deeply unfair.
By age 4, a child born to a low-income family will hear millions fewer words than their more affluent peers. They are twice as likely to repeat a grade and 10 times as likely to drop out of school. Would any senator accept those odds for their children? Of course not.
The truth is that, for generations, America has treated children in poverty like they are someone else’s children. And, whether we know it or not, we are all paying the price.
Child poverty costs our country up to $1 trillion a year, in the form of more hospital visits, lower earnings, and higher crime — to say nothing of the generation of entrepreneurs, scientists, doctors, and inventors we lose because poor kids never had a fair chance to chase their dreams.
That is why economists from across the political spectrum agree that investing in our kids is one of the best investments we can make as a country. According to Columbia University, every dollar we invest in a strong Child Tax Credit generates $7 in benefits to society down the road.
Nevertheless, some critics claim this investment in families will hurt society by somehow discouraging people from working. They should read a recent report from a conservative think tank showing that a stronger child tax credit actually increases work force participation.
It’s not hard to see why. Every Coloradan I’ve met wants to work, but the truth is it can be hard to hold a good-paying job in this country because we’ve left so many families with virtually no margin for error.
A recent Federal Reserve study found that nearly four in 10 Americans can’t afford a $400 surprise expense — and that was before the pandemic.
I hear all the time from people who get hit with an unexpected car repair they can’t afford and soon lose their job because they can’t make it to work. Millions of families are trapped in this economic insecurity – working all the time but saving nothing, one emergency away from everything falling apart.
The expanded Child Tax Credit will make an enormous difference in their lives, providing millions of families with an extra cushion to pay for groceries, diapers, textbooks, calculators, and the thousand other expenses that come with raising a child in America.
In our state alone, it will benefit almost 90% of kids and lift 57,000 children out of poverty. It is a historic step toward a society that doesn’t just talk about family values but that actually values families.
But it is only the first step. The expanded Child Tax Credit could expire in a year, leaving millions of kids and families back at square one.
If we want to secure our gains against child poverty and make a lasting difference for families, our work ahead is clear: let’s make the expanded Child Tax Credit permanent.
Michael Bennet is the senior U.S. senator from Colorado and a former superintendent of Denver Public Schools.
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