“. . . We are not going to dilute, dither, or delay. The needs of the American people are so demanding. We need to think big and act quickly.” — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
We applaud New York’s own Chuck Schumer for understanding “the fierce urgency of now” in fighting for the needs of low-income families with children. The pandemic has caused some economic hardships, worsened others, but for the most part it has only exposed what has been with us all along.
Rochester ranks as the number one worst city in the United States for child poverty, with 48% of our city’s children in poverty. We also suffer the distinction for the nation’s worst rate of extreme poverty. Fifteen percent of city residents struggle below half the federal poverty standard. Hardest hit? Black and Hispanic families.
Two of us are single moms with children; one who has a seven year old son and another who has a three year old daughter. As a cosmetologist running her own business, and as a housing specialist with Trillium Health, these numbers have both personal meaning for us, and we are endowed with real-life expertise. The struggles to get to work, put food on the table, have care for our children, oversee remote learning, etc., is all incredibly stressful. It feels like a daily no-win situation. But if given some breathing room, our families, our clients, friends and neighbors can get ahead.
Now Congress has the chance to make that happen. President Biden’s American Rescue Plan puts important poverty reduction policies (including all-important increases to SNAP funding, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and more) on the floor of Congress. Most promising, it also expands the Child Tax Credit, increasing the amounts, eliminating the phase-in and – very importantly — makes it fully refundable.
Columbia University researchers estimate that 224,000 children in New York State will be lifted out of poverty by Biden’s proposal. Today, families of 24 million children nationwide are too poor to qualify for the full $2,000 tax credit. More than half of Black and Hispanic children don’t qualify for all of it (while 23 percent of white children do). Nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.
The Biden plan doesn’t go far enough. It fails to disburse payments monthly, advance it to expectant mothers four months before delivery (to reduce neonatal mortality), and most importantly, make refundability permanent after the pandemic subsides. But once established — if established —we can build on it to ensure families get the support they need to thrive.
We call on Senator Schumer to make this tax credit expansion an absolute bottom line in any negotiations over the bill.
Frances Davis and Deondra Dukes are leaders active in RMAPI’s community cohort. Larry Marx is CEO of The Children’s Agenda, and co-chair of RMAPI’s Policy Committee.