American Rescue Plan: Ending child poverty — let's make it permanent

American Rescue Plan: Ending child poverty — let's make it permanent
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They are parents like Kaneadsha Jones of Ohio, a mother of three. She struggled before the pandemic. But with an autistic child she couldn't leave alone when schools shut down, she had to quit her job. "No matter how much we tried," she says, "we couldn't make it work."

Or Khristan Yates, the Chicago mother of two. The pandemic put her out of work. Now, only unemployment allows her to pay rent and utility bills. She longs for the days when she could just take her kids to a restaurant. So do they.

Or Abbas and Hassanati Abbas, from Tanzania, and now living in Washington state. Abbas’s job as a food preparer and driver all but dried up at the onset of the pandemic. The family had relied on his income and the additional 16 hours of overtime he worked each week. They're in debt too.

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One out of three families are now struggling to pay household bills each month in the wealthiest country on the planet. In a year when American billionaires increased their wealth by $1.3 trillion dollars, millions of Americans have joined the poverty rolls. Is helping them impossible? Until this month, it seemed like it was.

But now with the American Rescue Plan, helping them is law. In the excitement over those $1,400 checks flowing from Washington, few people have noticed that tucked into the 5,593 pages of the new law is a small provision urged by academics and politicians for a long time: the expansion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC).

To us, one of whom has dedicated his career to helping the poor, and the other who has worked in Congress and the White House, often dealing with issues of poverty, those few pages contain just about the most exciting legislation we've ever seen.

On the surface, it may not seem ground-breaking. It increases the maximum credit to $3,000 a year per child to families with kids 6-17, $3,600 if the kids are under six. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities reported that the legislation will make the credit available to 27 million children who previously did not receive the full credit because their families’ earnings were too low. This includes roughly half of all Black and Latino children. An estimated 9.9 million are Latino, 5.7 million are Black, and 814,000 are Asian American.

The result? The Columbia Center on Poverty and Social Policy says it will decrease poverty 39 percent among White families, 45 percent among Hispanics, and among Black families, an astounding 52 percent.

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Lifting children out of poverty will ultimately help us all. A recent report from National Academies extols the many benefits of stronger income assistance, including healthier birthweights, lower maternal stress, better childhood nutrition, higher school enrollment, higher reading and math test scores, higher high school graduation rates, less use of drugs and alcohol, and more Americans entering college.

And this credit doesn’t just directly benefit low income families; middle class Americans will get the credit as well. Families that report less than $75,000 on single tax returns, $112,500 on head-of-household returns, and $150,000 on joint returns will receive the full CTC for their children.

Do other programs help the poor? Of course they do. Programs like SNAP, better known as food stamps, and LIHEAP, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, make a difference in helping families pay their food, heating and cooling bills. The Child Tax Credit is unique because, among other things, it's accessible. Other programs require that families know about them and apply through a welfare office or nonprofit agency. The CTC kicks in when families file taxes.

The benefits to children are so significant that after President BidenJoe BidenCDC chief clarifies vaccine comments: 'There will be no nationwide mandate' Overnight Defense: First group of Afghan evacuees arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol security funding bill, reimbursing Guard | Pentagon raises health protection level weeks after lowering it Biden urges local governments to stave off evictions MORE signed the new law, a jubilant Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownTop Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy Democrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch MORE (D-Ohio) said that with a few exceptions the CTC expansion "is the biggest thing Congress has done since the New Deal."

We agree — except for one big problem: It expires after 12 months.

Yes, there are those who argue that with the economy in tatters, the U.S. can't do more to help the poor. But even during these desperate times, American billionaires have increased their wealth by a staggering $1.3 trillion dollars. Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskTesla's Musk voices support for Epic amid Apple lawsuit Tesla reports over 0M in energy business revenue in second quarter As inflation and government debt surge, Washington is ignoring our most critical economic crisis MORE alone increased his assets by 642 percent.

Do we really want our country to erase poverty for millions of families and then move them right back to poverty? Looking ahead to such prospects is what has made legislators like Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa DeLauroHouse adjourns for recess without passing bill to extend federal eviction ban House clears .1 billion Capitol security bill, sending to Biden House passes sprawling spending bill ahead of fall shutdown fight MORE (D-Conn.) and Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetLawmakers can't reconcile weakening the SALT cap with progressive goals How Sen. Graham can help fix the labor shortage with commonsense immigration reform For true American prosperity, make the child tax credit permanent MORE (D-Colo.) move to make the new law permanent.   

Sometimes Congress should end worthwhile measures that are no longer useful. But there isn't a member of congress who wouldn't see a permanent CTC help thousands of their constituents. Having done something so worthwhile and sensible, lawmakers in Washington should not let it lapse.      

We urge Democrats and Republicans to make this temporary fix permanent; President Biden recently announced his support.

The two of us are old enough to remember back in 1964 when Lyndon Johnson supported what became the "War on Poverty." Johnson said then, "Our aim is not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty, but to cure it."

Let's succeed with what Johnson started. Let's give hope to the families like Kaneadsha Jones, Khristan Yates, and the Abbas family. The poor don't just need help during the middle of a pandemic. They will need this just and far-sighted plan when it ends.

Mark Wolfe is an energy economist who serves as the executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, representing state directors of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

Bob Lehrman, chief speechwriter for former Vice President Al Gore, teaches speechwriting at American University in Washington. He has authored four novels and thousands of speeches, and given speechwriting workshops around the world. Follow him on Twitter @RobertLehrman1.