Today, the United States House of Representatives is set to vote on the third economic stimulus package since the COVID-19 pandemic began one year ago. It’s a vast and comprehensive bill that contains a lot of policy measures to aid our ailing economy and working families who need it most. The bill dubbed The American Rescue Plan already passed in the U.S. Senate after a bitter battle among the Democrats’ progressive wing and moderate wings, with Republicans voting unanimously against it.
I’ll repeat that: Not one Republican voted for the desperately-needed economic aid that Americans have been desperate for as the virus ravaged families, small businesses, schools, and states alike over the past year.
The most obvious element to the bill — the part that’s been discussed the most — has been the $1,400 checks sent to each and every American. These are much needed and should’ve been much more all along, but considering that not a single Republican voted for $1,400, any more seems unlikely in an age of heightened political tensions and extremely polarized parties.
These checks will go to individuals making $75,000 per year and families making less than $150,000 per year and the total of all the checks tops $410 billion. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
An additional $130 billion will go to schools to update them for proper ventilation so students and faculty can be safe as we reopen. On top of that, an additional 7% of the bill will go to vaccine rollout to make sure we get shots into arms and our population tested.
But one thing that really stands out in the bill is the fact that it cuts child poverty in half by including an additional $3,000 in the child tax credit for every child over six years old, and $3,600 payments for every child under six years old. That’s on top of the normal amount.
An analysis put forth by Columbia University called The Potential Poverty Reduction Effect of President-Elect Biden’s Economic Relief Proposal confirmed all the way back in January that the bill was likely to cut child poverty in half and that’s what it’s presumed to do once passed.
And a further analysis released today by Urban Institute titled 2021 Poverty Projections: Assessing Four American Rescue Plan Policies, said that the bill will reduce poverty by 42% among Black Americans, but also by 39% among Hispanic Americans, and by an additional 34% among White Americans.
In total, the national annual poverty rate will be reduced from 13.7% to 8.7%.
All of this is very good news.
Progressive California Congressman Ro Khanna said that the bill, “Marks a revolution,” in policymaking, and progressive opinion columnist at the New York Times, Ezra Klein, similarly said it’s the most progressive economic package ever signed in his lifetime.
A bill like this has been needed for quite some time even before the pandemic began. And while it came about as a response to the pandemic, it still signifies that the Democratic Party as a whole is revitalized and ready to fight for the poor.
But it wasn’t without conflict. The bill was hard-fought, as Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema’s refusal to include the minimum wage increase to $15 per hour in the COVID relief package disappointed the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. This part of the story disappointed a lot of Americans, including myself, who were hopeful that we’d finally pass legislation to assure a federal living wage.
A $15 per hour minimum wage increase is a policy desperately needed for our lowest-earning workers, but it’s important to understand that $15 per hour isn’t off the table, per se, but merely wasn’t included in the COVID-19 package.
It’s also important to note that all of our most populous states except Texas have already implemented the $15 per hour minimum wage, meaning both that the Federal Government is behind the times (as usual) and that the majority of the American population already has some sort of legislation in place to assure them a living wage.
Those states are California, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Massachusetts, Virginia, Illinois, Maryland, Connecticut, and Washington D.C., each being states that contain many of our most populous cities.
As of 2018, only nine U.S. states had a population higher than Los Angeles County, meaning there are more people in Los Angeles County than forty-one U.S. States (not including California). It’s possible that as of 2021, that’s been reduced to six states having populations greater than Los Angeles County.
So, it’s safe to say that a non-negligible portion of the American population is already covered by some sort of legislation, thankfully.
But today is a day for celebration. It’s not a day for mourning the things that didn’t work out. Cutting poverty by 43% for Black Americans, and by 39% and 34% for Hispanic and White Americans respectively, is no small feat. But it’s just the beginning. The policy is set to expire at the end of the fiscal year, so there’s a lot more work to do. Hopefully, our government can do the right thing and get the American people the help they deserve.
We need to shift our focus now to eliminating the antiquated (and not to mention racist-inspired) filibuster so the government can finally deliver on the promises it’s been making to the American people for decades.
Thank you for reading. In my near-decade of working in politics, I’m proud to say I worked on the Fight for $15 campaigns in California and Florida, and also fought to raise the minimum wage in Arizona to $12 per hour. And now the fight continues.