Joe Biden’s first priority after assuming the presidency next week will be a Covid-19 relief bill, which is expected to cost at least $1 trillion. The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein and Erica Werner report that the plan will call for a significant new benefit for low- and middle-income families with children, aimed at reducing America’s shamefully high rates of child poverty.
While a final decision has not been made, Biden is expected to push for a proposal similar to his campaign pledge to provide $300 per month to American households for every child under 6, as well as $250 per month for every child between the ages of 6 and 17. That would amount to $3,600 per year for families with one young child and $3,000 per year for families with older children. Biden is also likely to seek to extend the existing child benefit to millions of poor families currently shut out of the program.
The credit would be available to most families as an offset to their federal income tax liability. But parents who earn too little to pay income taxes would also be able to claim the credit as a refund by filling out an online form with the IRS.
(Sen. Sherrod) Brown (of Ohio) told reporters earlier this week that he spoke to Biden’s nominee for treasury secretary, Janet L. Yellen, about creating new bank accounts through the Federal Reserve that would make it easier for Americans to claim the child tax benefit. “The $250 a month will go to these low-income families every month, year-round — $300 if your child is under five,” Brown said. “Why not have this directly deposited in one of these Fed accounts everybody can have? Just imagine the difference it would make for families who are struggling.”
The emergency relief package, which can bypass the 60-vote threshold in the Senate through a process known as reconciliation, is also expected to include an expansion of paid family leave benefits and an extension of federal unemployment assistance.
Rural Black voter power
Black voters played a pivotal role last week in the historic election of Rev. Raphael Warnock, the first Black person, and Jon Ossoff, the first Jewish person to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate. Olivia Paschal of Facing South shares the stories of several Black organizers and the communities they serve in rural Georgia, including A Better Glynn, in southeastern Glynn County, which formed in response to last summer’s murder of Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery by white vigilantes. One organizer shares her perspective on the rural Black South:
“These folks [in rural areas] are already politically engaged, and they are already organized,” said Carey Jenkins of Georgia’s Working Families Party and the coalition Just Georgia, which provided resources to A Better Glynn. “The rural South is small communities of people that just need resources and just need education. They already know that they want change, they already know that they have power.”
New Year’s raises, but not for Louisiana workers
Minimum wage workers in 20 states and 44 localities received a raise on Jan. 1. That includes Arkansas, where a ballot measure meant the minimum wage rose $1 per hour to $11 – which translates to an annual raise of $2,080 for a full-time minimum wage worker. Minimum wage workers in Louisiana continue to toil at the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, which has not been raised in 12 years. While Louisiana lawmakers refuse to provide workers with a more adequate wage floor, David Cooper and Krista Faries of the Economic Policy Institute have reason for potential optimism on the federal level:
In July 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Raise the Wage Act of 2019,” a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025. However, the Act stalled in the Senate. But with Democrats winning control of the Senate and the presidency, the 117th Congress may finally achieve a policy goal that economic and racial justice advocates have been demanding for over 50 years. As economic research continues to show that higher minimum wages work precisely as they’re intended—lifting pay for low-wage workers with little, if any, impact on their job prospects—there is no excuse for lawmakers not to finally agree to that demand.
Documenting the decline in child health care amid Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic is having an impact on children’s health care beyond the economic and health impacts of the disease itself. Visits to the doctor’s office are essential to ensuring that children receive life-saving, routine immunizations and screenings. And regular check-ups provide an important connection to caring adults, especially during stressful times. But visits to the doctor plummeted amid Covid-19, and have not returned to pre-pandemic levels, especially for young children and those on Medicaid. Kelly Whitener of the Georgetown Center for Children and Families explains:
The Commonwealth Fund continues to track changes in outpatient visits during the COVID-19 pandemic, with October 2020 data showing outpatient care generally returning to pre-pandemic levels after the sharp decline of nearly 60 percent in late April. But the data also show that visits for younger children remain substantially below the prepandemic baseline and visits have been slower to rebound for people with Medicaid coverage compared to Medicare and commercial insurance. (…) With respect to the decline in well-child visits and immunizations, the report finds that only about 32 percent of the vaccines expected to be administered based on previous data were actually given since the pandemic began, underscoring the urgency to increase pediatric visits as quickly as possible to catch up on critical missed care.
Number of the Day
50 – Number of years of precedent overturned by a recent Trump administration rule forbidding union representatives from using official time to represent their coworkers in equal employment opportunity (EEO) matters. (Source: Economic Policy Institute)