Biden’s stimulus plan contains an experiment in Universal Basic Income. The bill’s child tax credit has the potential to change the way that the United States addresses poverty.
On Tuesday, March 9th, Amy Castro Baker stood on her front porch and watched as her two teen-age children boarded a bus and went off to school together for the first time in a year. Her sense of relief was profound. Baker, a researcher of economic mobility and an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice, had been through a challenging period familiar to most parents—and especially to working mothers. For the past year, she had balanced the demands of a full-time job with overseeing her kids’ online schooling, while also cooking, cleaning, and running the household as a single parent.
“We’re at the point in my home where it’s a choice between what’s higher risk, covid or my kids’ mental health,” Baker said. “I’m not sure I could have handled another month.”
These are the kinds of difficulties that the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9-trillion pandemic-relief bill recently passed by Congress, was designed to address. Benefits in the bill could help millions of families who are facing similar challenges and are living under much greater financial precarity.
No Republicans voted for the legislation, largely based on the argument that the pandemic will end soon and the economy doesn’t need the help. And it’s true that some aspects of the legislation go beyond the demands of the pandemic, addressing economic disparities that existed before covid-19 hit. The bill includes provisions to give one-time, fourteen-hundred-dollar payments to individuals earning fewer than eighty thousand dollars a year, and to increase unemployment insurance by three hundred dollars per week until early September.
But it is the plan’s expanded, fully refundable child tax credit—which is worth thirty-six hundred dollars for each child under age six and three thousand dollars for those aged six to seventeen—that has the greatest potential to change the way that the United States addresses poverty.
Sheelah Kolhatkar is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where she writes about Wall Street, Silicon Valley, economics, and politics. She is the author of “Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street.”
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