By Quinci LeGardye, California Black Media
President Biden signed the latest federal COVID-19 stimulus package, known as the American Rescue Plan, into law on March 11.
Over the past month since the bill passed – and as stimulus checks have gone out to people across the country — some members of California’s congressional delegations have been coming home to inform their constituents about other forms of relief that law has established for them. Many of them will be implemented within the next few months or over the course of the next year.
On April 6, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA-13) and Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) hosted a virtual conference to inform Californians about the details of the American Rescue Plan. Throughout the conversation, they both spelled out the importance of direct relief to Black and Brown families and small businesses in the state. They said what’s currently offered in the American Rescue Plan helps, but it is hardly enough. They also said some measures in the bill should be made permanent.
Newly appointed Senator Padilla, formerly California’s Secretary of State, spoke about the scope of the law. He also described how his work on the law has taken up a significant chunk of his time since February when he was sworn in to serve in the U.S. Senate
“Since my appointment to the Senate it has been COVID, COVID, COVID. We know how devastating COVID has been for the country and California is no exception, but it has disproportionately impacted working class communities and communities of color. So. it was great to partner with [Congresswoman Lee] and all of our colleagues to push through the American Rescue Plan. When we step back and take our breath, we recognize, it’s one of the most progressive pieces of legislation approved by Congress since the New Deal. And, so, it is tremendous help that’s now arriving,” said Padilla.
Lee spoke about forms of assistance included in the American Rescue Plan designed to help individuals and families in poverty. Those include the new expanded earned income tax credit and the expanded Child Tax Credit, as well as more money allocated for rental assistance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). She also commented on the importance of the law’s focus on poverty, especially in a high-cost state such as California.
“Here in California, oftentimes we think of it as the Golden State which it is, but we have such huge numbers of people living below the poverty line, and it’s growing even more each and every day because of the pandemic. Nationally, the crisis has plunged more than 8 million more people into poverty since last year. About one in seven households nationwide including more than one in five African American and Latino households, and many Asian Americans and Pacific Islander households are struggling just to secure the food that they need,” said Lee.
The expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) makes the credit available to more workers not raising children, as the previous credit only went to a small number of these
workers. With the increase, the maximum EITC is tripled, going from about $540 to about $1,500, and the income cap for qualification goes from about $16,000 to at least $21,000. It also expands the age range of eligible workers without children to include young adults aged 19-24 who aren’t students and older adults age 65 and older.
The expansion of the Child Tax Credit is designed to significantly reduce child poverty, by increasing both the scope of the credit to include 17-year-olds and by increasing the dollar amount to $3,600 for children under age six and $3,000 for other children under age 18. The expansion also makes the Child Tax Credit available to all children except those with the highest incomes.
According to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the changes in the Child Tax Credit will lift 4.1 million children in America above the poverty line — a large number of them Black and Latino, whom the old credit disproportionately left out.
“The expansion of the Child Tax Credit is one of the things I’m most proud of having supported. We have the opportunity to uplift half the nation’s children who are living in poverty, out of poverty. In California alone, that’s half a million children,” said Padilla.
“We have a lot of work to do, and California has some of the highest poverty rates for Black and Brown children throughout the country. And so, this is not something we in California can sidestep,” said Lee.
In addition to providing details on the current relief available, Lee and Padilla also spoke about the need to expand or make some of the provisions of the American Rescue Plan permanent as many Californians work to build back the wealth that they lost during the pandemic.
“In the law, we did put $1400 in direct payments. For me, not enough, I think we need to have at least $2,000 a month guaranteed until the end of the pandemic. People did not lose their jobs because they wanted didn’t want to work. They didn’t lose their businesses because they just wanted to shut down. This was as a result of the pandemic and so our government needs to step up,” said Lee.