Every child deserves a fair shot at success.
Child poverty has been a pervasive issue in the United States as nearly 11 million children are considered poor. That’s one in seven children. Rising costs of living — from basic necessities, like rent and groceries, to transportation and childcare — coupled with stagnating wages are putting more children and their families below the poverty line.
COVID-19 has made it worse as families deal with record levels of unemployment. When schools transitioned fully to remote learning, many parents were forced to choose between employment and taking care of their children. The economic impacts of the pandemic can have long-term consequences, including an increase in food and housing insecurity and worse health and education outcomes.
Growing up, my family struggled to make ends meet, and we moved around a lot as my parents looked for work. I was fortunate to be able to go to college where I worked hard and was able to start my career. Now more than ever, I feel that working hard isn’t enough to guarantee success. There are too many institutional barriers that keep children in a generational cycle of poverty.
There is no reason why the wealthiest country in the world should be home to 11 million children living in poverty. Most other developed countries offer a child benefit that gives families money to help cover the basic necessities of raising children.
In the United States, we have the Child Tax Credit, but it is much more narrow than the benefit in other countries. Until recently, it didn’t serve the people who needed it most, leaving behind one-third of all children who live in families that didn’t make enough money to qualify for the full benefit.
That’s why Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Ritchie Torres (D-NY) and I introduced the American Family Act, which would give families up to $300 per month per child and make sure all low- and middle-income families can access the full credit.
A one-year version of our proposal was included in the American Rescue Plan. That’s because the New Democrat Coalition, a group of 94 forward-thinking Democrats that I lead in the House, endorsed the American Family Act and pushed for its inclusion as a way to rebuild the middle class. The federal government is expected to start issuing these monthly checks to families in July, to help pay for groceries, rent, and other regular bills.
This is only the beginning of this effort. We cannot lift children out of poverty for just one year. Parents need consistency and predictability knowing this support will be here for the long term as they raise their families. Some might contend this will cost too much or will be too hard to achieve. I say how can we afford not to? Childhood poverty costs the nation upwards of $1 trillion a year. Permanent expansion of the benefit is supported broadly by Democrats, including the New Democrats and Progressives. Giving children a fair chance at success is a position that shouldn’t be partisan. The permanent enhanced credit is estimated to save eight dollars for every dollar it costs. This means better health and education outcomes for children and more stability and predictability for parents.
President Joe Biden has said he supports making the expanded benefit permanent. This could be a historic opportunity to cut childhood poverty by 55%, and we cannot afford not to act.
Suzan DelBene, the representative for Washington’s 1st Congressional District, serves as chair of the New Democrat Coalition and vice chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.