History-making help for children

History-making help for children

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan cleared its final congressional hurdle on Wednesday and heads to President Joe Biden’s desk with the promise of cutting child poverty in half – at least temporarily – by steering federal dollars where they are needed most. At the center of this change is a historic expansion of the Child Tax Credit, which will benefit more than one million Louisiana children. Della Hasselle and Joe Gyan, writing in The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate, explain how it will help Nadia Miller of New Orleans. 

A single mom, Miller typically works 40 hours each week at $14 an hour. The roughly $29,000 she earns annually is just enough to cover rent, utilities, groceries and expenses for her two boys in high school, and the $150 a week tuition at Clara’s Little Lambs for her 4-year-old son. But when the pandemic dealt its blow to daycares, with schools and offices shuttered and families withdrawing their children, Miller’s hours and pay were cut. Some weeks there wasn’t enough money left for her son’s tuition.

The expanded credit will provide up to $3,600 in tax credits per child under 6, and $3,000 per child between 6 and 17. More importantly, these credits will be received as monthly payments instead of a lump sum when filing taxes. This policy allows households to keep up with necessary expenses like housing and food throughout the year. While this concept is novel for the United States, LBP’s Jan Moller points out that other wealthy nations caught on long ago:

Moller underscored that while the policy is radical for America, other countries already have child allowances. He pointed to a 2019 bipartisan study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that concluded any exposure to poverty could be detrimental and expensive. By leaving children with less education, worsening health and fewer job opportunities down the road, child poverty actually costs the nation roughly between $800 billion and $1.1 trillion annually in terms of lost adult productivity, the report found.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a helpful rundown of everything in the bill, which includes extended unemployment benefits, aid to state and local governments, expansions of health coverage and affordability, funding for K-12 schools and increased food assistance. 

Teacher pay is falling behind
Gov. John Bel Edwards is proposing a $400 per year raise for teachers and $200 for school support staff. But this pay raise would do little to get teachers to the Southern Regional Educational Board average, which is currently $4,000 higher than the average Louisiana teacher salary of around $51,566. Will Sentell of The Advocate says teacher leaders are pushing for more

Cynthia Posey, director of legislative and political affairs for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said her group favors pay hikes of no less than $1,000 and at least $500 for support workers. Posey said compensation is the key reason why teachers are leaving the profession, and educators have worked through the once-in-a-century coronavirus pandemic. “They were there for the children,” she said. An official of the Louisiana Association of Educators, the state’s other teacher union, echoed those views. BESE’s request, like the governor’s, includes a $200 pay raise for school support workers. It would also include about $2 million to fund stipends for teacher mentors, who help aspiring teachers and whose ranks have been hard to fill.

Dismantling racism in agriculture
Between 1910 and 1997, Black farmers lost more than 90% of their land compared to the 2% lost by White farmers. This was the result of discrimination from the federal government, which often withheld U.S. Department of Agriculture loans from farmers of color. Farmers need these loans to make large investments at the start of the growing season, and without them many Black farmers were forced out of the profession. Acknowledging this racist history, the American Rescue Plan sets aside $4 billion in debt relief for farmers from marginalized groups. Jessica Fu from The Counter has more

It’s a legislative decision that acknowledges a painful history. Though USDA-backed loans are a critical source of support for many farmers, who rely on them to buy the supplies and equipment needed at the beginning of each growing season, those loans have benefitted some farmers more than others. A 2019 investigation by The Counter showed how, by the time President Obama took office, USDA had worked up a backlog of more than 14,000 discrimination complaints—many of them from Black farmers alleging that the department had withheld loans from them on the basis of race. Thousands of these claims were found to have merit by USDA’s office of civil rights. 

A living wage is suicide prevention
Mental health and economic security are intrinsically linked, and this relationship has been further strengthened by research from Emory University that shows minimum wage increases reduce suicide in one of the highest risk groups – adults with a high school education or less. Jason Cherkis writes in the New York Times that we have a moral obligation to increase the minimum wage

As politicians debated increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, I thought about the deaths I was reviewing. There’s a moral argument that Democrats should be making, but are not. Along with increasing social mobility and addressing inequality, raising the minimum wage has the potential to lower the country’s suicide rate. The Covid-19 pandemic has raised concerns about a coming mental health crisis, and a wage hike should be discussed as not just good economic sense but also critical mental health policy. … It may not take all that much to begin to reverse that trend of despair. Last year, researchers at Emory University published findings suggesting that if the United States increased its minimum wage by just $1 per hour, the suicide rate could drop between 3.4 percent and about 6 percent among adults with a high school education or less — that key risk group. The findings are especially relevant during the pandemic, as the researchers write that the effects “appear greatest during periods of high unemployment.”

Number of the Day
94,000 –
The number of children in Louisiana who will be lifted above the poverty line from the American Recovery Act’s Child Tax Credit expansion. (Source: CBPP)