Help is Here for Families – But Do You Know What Kind?

stimulus relief

By now unless you are living under a rock every American has heard of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 also called the Covid-19 Stimulus Package. https://darkmattersmag.com/business/how-big-is-1-9-trillion-the-stimulus-and-what-does-it-mean-for-you/

To recap this historic 1.9 trillion (12 zeros are in a trillion) dollar economic stimulus bill passed by the 117th United States Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, 2021, to speed up the United States’ recovery from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing recession. And unless any readers do not open their mail nor have a bank account you have been the recipients of the stimulus checks. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Rescue_Plan_Act_of_2021

But what you may not have scrutinized are the details of how it impacts and helps sectors of people – families for instance and children in particular. What helps parents, helps kids. And kids grow up to become members of society so it behooves us to help them thrive. Life is a cycle and any crack in the cycle is a crack in the mechanism of society. 

So how is the Rescue Plan tailored to help families and as a bonus section for Golden State readers how is Governor Gavin Newsom getting in the game unveiling his own economic recovery plan including transitional preschool? 

The American Rescue Plan

So how does one begin to unravel the “what does it do for me” part of the plan? The White House has a nice “Fact Sheet” on the briefing room page of the newly announced American Families Plan which is an adjunct to the American Rescue Plan that was signed into law in March. 

“In March, the President signed into law the American Rescue Plan, which continues to provide immediate relief to American families and communities. Approximately 161 million payments of up to $1,400 per person have gone out to households, schools are reopening, and 100 percent of Americans ages 16 and older are now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.” 

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/04/28/fact-sheet-the-american-families-plan/

But before we digest theis new addition I want to review what benefits the American Rescue Plan offers families and in turn children. With that I turn your attention over to highlights from a page on the Charles Schwab website. In my humble opinion as the average “Jane” cashing the stimulus checks but truly not able to comprehend what benefits come from these thousands of pages of bills appropriated in Congress it’s beneficial, if you think you might be the recipient of these new reliefs, to seek the help of people who have a financial or tax background. 

Beyond the cash in hand which is a much needed exhale and extends the time between the next squeeze for many the American Rescue Plan has other incentives for families according to Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz: https://www.schwab.com/resource-center/insights/content/how-can-american-rescue-plan-act-help-your-family

“More money for the Child Tax Credit in 2021—and a new way to get it:

“Parents with minor children get a big increase in the Child Tax Credit—from the previous $2,000 per child up to age 16 to $3,000 for kids 6-17, and $3,600 for kids under 6. Plus, this credit is now fully refundable, meaning it reduces your tax bill dollar for dollar and any amount over your tax bill will be refunded to you in cash. Beginning in July through December 2021, parents are scheduled to receive the credit in monthly payments (which would amount to half the yearly credit) and apply the remainder to their 2021 taxes”.

“Of course, there are income limitations for the expanded credit (they phase out beginning at $75,000 for single filers; $150,000 married filing jointly), but for those who qualify, it offers a welcome boost”.

“Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit maximums and income limits increased for this year”:

“In another welcome increase for parents, the maximum expenses used to calculate child and dependent care tax credit for kids under 13 goes up to $8,000 for one child; $16,000 for multiple children. Plus, the maximum percentage you can receive increases from the current 35 percent to 50 percent of expenses—and the credit is fully refundable. On top of that, the AGI limit for eligible families to receive the full credit increases to $125,000 with the credit phasing out between $125,000 and $400,000”.

“This tax credit also applies to other qualified dependents

“Temporary assistance with health insurance premiums”:

“Paying for quality healthcare is another big concern for families, especially if you’ve lost coverage through a job due to the pandemic. Here are two ways the ARPA can help”:

  • “COBRA subsidies for laid-off workers—From April 1 through September 30, 2021, the government will provide 100 percent premium assistance for eligible unemployed individuals to help them keep their previous employer-sponsored health insurance”.
  • “Premium caps for ACA health insurance—Individuals who buy health insurance through the federal exchange or state marketplaces will have premiums capped at 8.5 percent of income, replacing prior income caps through 2022. This will allow more people to qualify for healthcare subsidies called premium tax credits”.

“Be aware that while you don’t have to file a tax return to get the economic stimulus payment, you do need to file to get a tax refund or qualify for any refundable tax credits”.

Now that we have an idea of what incentives the American Rescue Plan offers families, we can take a dive into the American Families Plan which President Biden announced on April 28, which is an adjunct to the American Rescue Plan.  https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/04/28/fact-sheet-the-american-families-plan/

“The Rescue Plan is projected to lift more than five million children out of poverty this year, cutting child poverty by more than half. While too many Americans are still out of work, we are seeing encouraging signs in the labor market, as businesses begin to rehire and some of the hardest hit sectors begin to reopen”.

“The American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan are once-in-a-generation investments in our nation’s future.  The American Jobs Plan will create millions of good jobs, rebuild our country’s physical infrastructure and workforce, and spark innovation and manufacturing here at home. The American Families Plan is an investment in our children and our families—helping families cover the basic expenses that so many struggle with now, lowering health insurance premiums, and continuing the American Rescue Plan’s historic reductions in child poverty”. 

The highlights of the American Families Plan will:

Add at least four years of free education”

“It will invest in making college more affordable for low- and middle-income students, including students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and institutions such as Hispanic-serving institutions, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions, and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs).” 

“Specifically, President Biden is calling for $200 billion for free universal pre-school for all three- and four-year-olds and $109 billion for two years of free community college so that every student has the ability to obtain a degree or certificate. In addition, he is calling for an approximately $85 billion investment in Pell Grants, which would help students seeking a certificate or a two- or four-year degree”. 

“The President is also calling for $5 billion to expand existing institutional aid grants to HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs, which can be used by these institutions to strengthen their academic, administrative, and fiscal capabilities, including by creating or expanding educational programs in high-demand fields (e.g., STEM, computer sciences, nursing, and allied health), with an additional $2 billion directed towards building a pipeline of skilled health care workers with graduate degrees.”

“And, it will invest in our teachers as well as our students, improving teacher training and support so that our schools become engines of growth at every level. President Biden is calling on Congress to invest $9 billion in American teachers, addressing shortages, improving training and supports for teachers, and boosting teacher diversity.”

“Increase college retention and completion rates. The President is proposing a bold $62 billion grant program to invest in completion and retention activities at colleges and universities that serve high numbers of low-income students, particularly community colleges.”

“Provide direct support to children and families”

“The American Families Plan will provide direct support to families to ensure that low- and middle-income families spend no more than seven percent of their income on child care, and that the child care they access is of high-quality. It will also provide direct support to workers and families by creating a national comprehensive paid family and medical leave program that will bring America in line with competitor nations that offer paid leave programs. The program will allow people to manage their health and the health of their families. And, it will provide critical nutrition assistance to families who need it most and expand access to healthy meals to our nation’s students – dramatically reducing childhood hunger”.

“President Biden’s American Families Plan will ensure low and middle-income families pay no more than 7 percent of their income on high-quality child care for children under 5 years-old, saving the average family $14,800 per year on child care expenses, while also generating lifetime benefits for three million children, supporting hundreds of thousands of child care providers and workers, allowing roughly one million parents, primarily mothers, to enter the labor force, and significantly bolstering inclusive and equitable economic growth. Specifically, President Biden’s plan will invest $225 billion to:

Make child care affordable

Invest in the child care workforce. This investment will mean a $15 minimum wage for early childhood staff and ensure that those with similar qualifications as kindergarten teachers receive comparable compensation and benefits. And, it will ensure child care workers receive job-embedded coaching and professional development, along with additional training opportunities funded by the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan.” 

“Extend tax cuts for families with children and American workers”

“The American Families Plan will extend key tax cuts in the American Rescue Plan that benefit lower- and middle-income workers and families, including the Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit”.

“The American Families Plan will also extend the expanded health insurance tax credits in the American Rescue Plan”. 

Create a national comprehensive paid family and medical leave program

“The program will ensure workers receive partial wage replacement to take time to bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill loved one, deal with a loved one’s military deployment, find safety from sexual assault, stalking, or domestic violence, heal from their own serious illness, or take time to deal with the death of a loved one. It will guarantee twelve weeks of paid parental, family, and personal illness/safe leave by year 10 of the program, and also ensure workers get three days of bereavement leave per year starting in year one. The program will provide workers up to $4,000 a month, with a minimum of two-thirds of average weekly wages replaced, rising to 80 percent for the lowest wage workers”.

“To ensure the nutritional needs of families are met, President Biden’s plan will invest $45 billion to”:

“The American Families Plan builds on the American Rescue Plan’s support for Summer Pandemic-EBT by investing more than $25 billion to make the successful program permanent and available to all 29 million children receiving free and reduced-price meals”.

“The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) allows high-poverty schools to provide meals free of charge to all of their students. The President’s plan will fund $17 billion to expand free meals for children in the highest poverty districts by reimbursing a higher percentage of meals at the free reimbursement rate through CEP. Additionally, the plan will lower the threshold for CEP eligibility for elementary schools to 25 percent of students participating in SNAP. The plan will also expand direct certification to automatically enroll more students for school meals based on Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income data. This proposal will provide free meals to an additional 9.3 million children, with about 70 percent in elementary schools.” 

“To build on progress made during the Obama Administration to improve the nutrition standards of school meals, this new $1 billion demonstration will support schools that are further expanding healthy food offerings.”

“Facilitate re-entry for formerly incarcerated individuals through SNAP eligibility. Denying these individuals—many of whom are parents of young children—SNAP benefits jeopardizes nutrition security and poses a barrier to re-entry into the community in a population that already faces significant hurdles to obtaining employment and stability.”

“UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE REFORM”

“President Biden is committed to strengthening and reforming the system for the long term.  That’s why he won $2 billion in the American Rescue Plan to put toward UI system modernization, equitable access, and fraud prevention.”

“TAX CUTS FOR AMERICA’S FAMILIES AND WORKERS”

“Specifically, President Biden’s plan will:

Extend expanded ACA premiums tax credits in the American Rescue Plan.

Extend the Child Tax Credit increases in the American Rescue Plan through 2025 and make the Child Tax Credit permanently fully refundable.

Permanently increase tax credits to support families with child care needs. 

Make the Earned Income Tax Credit Expansion for childless workers permanent.

Give IRS the authority to regulate paid tax preparers.”

“TAX REFORM THAT REWARDS WORK – NOT WEALTH”

“Revitalize enforcement to make the wealthy pay what they owe.”

“Increase the top tax rate on the wealthiest Americans to 39.6 percent.” 

“End capital income tax breaks and other loopholes for the very top.”

https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/American-Families-Plan-Fact-Sheet-FINAL.pdf

Now that we see what is possible and humane the question begs will it pass Congress? Will Congress make the investment in itself, really. The word that is being tossed around is infrastructure. We think of infrastructure as bridges and tunnels and airports and roads – the things needed for the operation of a society. But is not human capital needed for the operation of a society and without which there would not be a society. Bridges and tunnels don’t build themselves and at last look I did not see a pack of wolves driving bulldozers. Without a healthy and vital society of humans we are left with a bankrupt (no pun intended yet the word does fit) population struggling to make it from one day to the next. If the human capital – the human resource – is vitally bankrupt then how can bridges and tunnels or anything else be built with fortitude and durability.

“The central issue isn’t just money. The debates also focus on what investments should count as “infrastructure” and how to prioritize them. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for instance, argues that both the American Jobs Plan—which would invest trillions into physical structures like roads, bridges, pipes, airports and internet broadband—and pieces of the American Families Plan should fit into the same category. “We build roads and bridges so people can get to work and we invest in broadband communication so people can get to work,” the Massachusetts Democrat tells TIME in a statement. “It is time to treat childcare just like any other forms of infrastructure because investments in child care also get people to work.”

Republicans do not see it that way. They seem to think the Dems are playing with semantics and trying to move legislation into a spending bill calling it infrastructure when it’s not. 

“Democrats are already threatening to jam the American Families Plan through without any Republican support. “I believe that we need to get these proposals passed, and I do think that it’s important to do outreach to Republicans,” says Rep. Judy Chu, a California Democrat. “But I do not want to waste time by negotiating with people who may not have any investment in getting those items passed.”

“That’s why Democrats like Chu support passing the plan through reconciliation—a special legislative mechanism that enables certain tax, spending and debt-limit legislation to be passed in the Senate by a simple majority vote. But not every member of her party agrees. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat and arguably the most powerful member of the Senate, is weary of using the process of reconciliation to advance sweeping legislation. “For the sake of our country,” he said in late April, “we have to show we can work in a bipartisan way.”

Dream on. In a functional Washington the members of Congress – specifically the Republicans – would be empathetic to the average working class American. But sadly they are out of touch with what it means to live paycheck to paycheck. Even a $15/hour minimum wage is still poverty at just over $31,000/year. Perhaps we need Maleficent to cast a poverty spell on every Republican for one year. But as I said, dream on. 

“To pass the bill the traditional way, Democrats in the Senate would need to get at least 10 Republicans on board. But a Senate Democratic aide says the party doesn’t feel optimistic about that prospect. A recent Morning Consult poll indicated 58% of Americans support the American Families Plan, yet the aide points out that despite 75% of voters supporting the American Rescue Plan, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll, not a single Republican in either chamber of Congress voted for the bill which provided most Americans with a third round of stimulus checks in mid-March.” 

Joe Manchin has a solution which is not much of a solution. Where is a real life Maleficent when we need her? Joe Manchin could go first. He’s useless as a Democrat. 

“Manchin, on the other hand, has indicated he wants to prioritize traditional infrastructure like roads and bridges, and called the $568 billion Republican counter-offer to Biden’s $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan a “good start.” That GOP plan outlaid $0 for what some academics call the “Care Economy”—which the American Families Plan aims to address.”

“If Democrats accede to Manchin and try to pass the Families Plan after passing traditional infrastructure policies first, the Families Plan might not make it through, another Democratic aide suggests. “If they put all the easy stuff in the first package, what is going to happen to the second package?” the aide says.”

Needless to say the American Families Plan is a fight that needs to be won. 

Now let’s turn our attention to California and Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposal for schools and universal pre-K. This is a part of his pandemic recovery plan that he unveiled on May 12 that will include more than $14.5 billion funding for public schools.

“The plan includes a proposed universal pre-K program by 2024, savings accounts for 3.7 million children, and the reduction of class sizes. This comes just two days after it was revealed that California has an astonishing budget surplus of nearly $76 billion.”

“We talk about an ‘achievement gap’ — it’s a readiness gap, as much or more than it is an achievement gap,” Newsom said at a news conference held at Elkhorn Elementary School in Monterey County. “People aren’t left behind as often as they start behind, and that’s why that investment is so foundational and so important.”

“The surplus means California will have $93.7 billion to spend on public education this year, money calculated by a voter-approved formula. That’s $36 billion more than the state had to spend last year, and it is $17.7 billion more than the governor’s initial estimate in January.”

“Newsom said he wants to spend part of that money to expand the state’s transitional kindergarten program to all 4-year-olds by the 2024-25 school year.”

“The plan would eventually open California’s two-year transitional kindergarten program to students starting at age 4. The proposal fulfills a promise by Newsom and legislative leaders to pay for universal pre-K statewide.”

Although parents are not required to send their children to school in California until age 6, school districts have to offer these transitional kindergarten programs. 

However, there is a bit of a snag – a teacher shortage. The pandemic added undue stress on teachers causing an “increase of 26% of retirements during the second half of 2020 and of those retirements 56% cited the difficulty of teaching during the pandemic” as the reason. For anyone wanting to go into teaching, Newson’s plan has a solution for the loss in teaching personnel. 

“Newsom’s plan would address that problem by giving $1.1 billion to some school districts to hire more staff, the administration official said. To be eligible for the money, at least 55% of a district’s enrollment would have to be made up of either low-income students, children learning English as a second language or kids in foster care, the official said.”

The program focuses on high need and low income families, neighborhoods, and children. 

“The governor’s plan would also spend $3.3 billion to expand incentive programs for teachers, including a program that gives grants of up to $20,000 to teachers who work in high-need public schools, the official said.”

“In addition, Newsom wants to pay for an after-school program and six weeks of summer school for districts with high concentrations of low-income students, children learning to speak English and kids in foster care. The programs would be available for students up to 6th grade, the official said.”

This is not the only help, dubbed a California Comeback Plan, that is coming to Golden State residents and families in particular. A second round of $600 stimulus checks may be on the way for some residents. 

“California Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing a second round of $600 stimulus checks, a move that would expand payments to middle-class families and benefit two-thirds of state residents. Families with children would get an additional $500.”

“In addition to the $600 stimulus checks for eligible Californians, the governor is proposing that families with children get an additional $500, along with $500 in direct payments to immigrant families without legal status.”

“Newsom also proposed $5 billion to double rental assistance to get 100% of back rent paid for those who have fallen behind, along with as much as $2 billion in direct payments to pay down utility bills, proposals that were supported by legislative leaders on Monday.”

Let’s hope that Governor Newson has an easier time getting his proposal passed through the Legislature during the state budget negotiation than President Biden is having getting the Families Plan accepted by the Republicans. 

The importance of these government assistance plans to help Americans, families, and children in particular cannot be underscored enough. Like adults children have not escaped the mental repercussions of the pandemic and any help that can now be forthcoming to the adults in their lives will only ease the trauma they themselves are experiencing having gone from a world of fun and frolic to zoom school and watching their parents and other adult stakeholders try to navigate lost income, illness, homelessness, trauma, or death. 

“The more adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, that children have,” the more stress hormones are released in the body, which can set the stage for various health conditions including cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety and other negative health outcomes, Merrick explained.” 

“These days, the acronym ACE may also refer to “adverse COVID-19 experiences.” The deaths, illness, economic and housing instability, and loss of the daily school routine have been especially hard for many children, providing the destabilizing trigger for a wide range of ACEs to arise in kids everywhere, she noted. Society will likely be grappling with the after-effects for decades to come.”https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2021-03-04/childrens-mental-health-crisis-could-be-a-next-wave-in-the-pandemic

These are ongoing stories.

Author: Sherri Margolin (Dark Matters)

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