After more than a month of debate, Congress finally passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan on Wednesday. It’s one of the largest stimulus bills in U.S. history, but for many it’s been reduced to one or two areas of interest: stimulus checks and minimum wage.
Direct relief is on pretty much everyone’s mind right now. While relief checks were a core part of the legislation, a federal minimum wage hike wasn’t, despite being one of the more popular policies Democrats have available to them.
Even without the $15 minimum wage, there’s plenty in the American Rescue Plan to feel encouraged about. And for a nearly $2 billion bill designed to combat a once-in-a-generation health crisis combined with a once-in-a-generation economic crisis, there’d better be.
Child Tax Credit
Studies have shown that the American Rescue Plan could decrease child poverty more in 2021 than in any year in U.S. history (at least temporarily). That’s in part because of the child tax credit, which will be boosted to $3,600 for children under the age of 6 and $3,000 for children aged 6 to 17.
Families that are eligible for the credit would receive monthly payments starting in July, but like the stimulus checks, they’re reduced for those making more than a certain amount of money ($75,000 for individuals, $150,000 for couples). Would it be easier and far more efficient if this type of family relief was simply universal instead of means-tested and offered in the form of a tax credit? Yes.
Education Funding and Debt Relief
Per NPR, more than $128 billion of the $1.9 trillion relief bill will come in the form of grants to state educational agencies. $39 billion will go toward higher education, and another roughly $15 billion will go to child care programs and facilities.
The cherry on top is the provision added by the Senate that would make any student debt relief legislation passed between now and the end of 2025 tax free. We’ll see if Biden gets to that next.
The American Rescue Plan includes $28.6 billion to assist “restaurants, food trucks, bars, and street vendors in paying their back rent, mortgages, and pretty much everything else.” It was based off an earlier proposal from House Democrats last fall and should help relieve a desperate industry. More than 110,000 restaurants and bars closed in 2020, and service industry workers were among the hardest hit by necessary COVID-19 restrictions.
An additional $25 billion is available for emergency rental assistance. It’s a fraction of the $100 billion Democrats proposed for housing relief last May, but it will still help those who struggled to make payments due to lack of work or who are on the verge of becoming homeless. Those eligible could receive up to a year’s worth of back rent and utilities. (Get more info on how to apply here.)
The pandemic is still with us a year later, and the costs to deal with it are monumental. Fortunately, a good chunk of the stimulus bill will cover vaccines ($7.5 billion), diagnosing and tracking infections ($46 billion), and providing testing equipment PPE for healthcare workers ($2 billion).
The American Rescue Plan inevitably falls short in several ways, and not just because it doesn’t include a federal minimum wage increase. Much of the relief is mired in means-testing and many of the items are stark decreases from original Democratic proposals.
It’s not unreasonable by any stretch to demand more of our lawmakers. Legislation shouldn’t come with the disclaimer that it’s “better than nothing.” But in a time of desperation and struggle for so many, it’s at least enough to hope this bill is the start of providing relief and reimagining what the government can do for its people in times of need. And it was accomplished in part by progressive activists and organizations pushing Biden left.