President Joe Biden campaigned on the promise to restore the soul of America, and Americans turned out in record numbers to deliver him the presidency. America’s ‘soul problem’ is rooted in its dubious distinction of being the wealthiest country in the history of the world while simultaneously ranking among the worst in child poverty. Here in New York, one in every five children lives in poverty, with evident racial disparities. These facts – coupled with the devastating impact of COVID-19 on low- to middle-income families and children – warrant Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration move swiftly and boldly to redeem our Nation’s soul by passing and signing a budget reconciliation package which advances racial equity and lifts our vulnerable children and families out of poverty.
The House version of the reconciliation package takes a holistic response to America’s worsening soul problem. It would extend the expanded Child Tax Credit and ensure that our most vulnerable children have access to it; help make real the human right to housing by investing in eviction and homelessness prevention; address our growing child hunger crisis by extending free school meals to nine million more children; act to fix our broken immigration system by creating a pathway to citizenship for many; establish universal paid leave; guarantee access to free preschool; and more.
A critical component of this package is the extension of the American Rescue Plan’s transformative expanded Child Tax Credit, which has made a historic impact in our ongoing fight to eradicate child poverty by providing the nation’s largest ever Child Tax Credit to the most families. It is set to expire soon, which would have the morally devastating effect of returning 3.5 million children to poverty and would be particularly problematic for Black, Latinx, and American Indian and Alaskan Native children who suffer the highest rates of poverty. It is by structural design that children of color are more likely to experience poverty than their white counterparts. The Build Back Better package must make definitive progress on the structural issue of persistent child poverty in communities of color in ways that are free of limitations and restrictions that make determinations of who is and is not worthy of receiving needed funds and basic supports.
Therefore, the final Build Back Better Act must include a robust and equitable Child Tax Credit that is permanent, inclusive of all immigrant children, and supportive of those with the most dire financial circumstances. America cannot “Build Back Better,” restore its soul or redeem its soul without centering and prioritizing the needs of its most marginalized children and populations. As the Children’s Defense Fund’s Founder and President Emerita Marian Wright Edelman recently wrote, “The greatest threat to America’s economic, military, and national security comes from no enemy without but from our failure, unique among high income nations, to invest adequately and fairly in the health, education, and sound development of all of our young. To those who claim our nation cannot afford to invest in children and cannot afford to prevent them from going hungry, homeless, or uneducated, I say we cannot afford not to.”
There will be dire consequences to New York’s – and America’s – soul and future if it fails to generate the needed political will in the Senate and White House to support the House’s budget reconciliation package and enact a permanent, inclusive and fully refundable Child Tax Credit. Failure to do so will further define who we are – and limit who our children can become.