Local Pennsylvania union chief says Biden relief bill made life 'easier' for her members

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AFSCME Local 2592 President Georgiann Hunsicker said her members now need Congress to pass child care funding.

AFSCME Local 2592's Georgiann Hunsicker says her union's members' lives are "getting a little easier" thanks to President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion rescue package. But, she says, many of them really need the child care support he is proposing.

Hunsicker, a food distribution representative for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, has spent more than 20 years working to get food to families who need it.

"I love it," she said in a Monday phone interview. "It's like getting paid to do volunteer work. You want to help everybody."

She is president of her AFSCME union local, representing about 135 clerical and fiscal employees of public agencies in and around Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

"I have a diversified local. I talk to people from three counties, what they're going through," Hunsicker said. With the pandemic and its economic aftereffects, "a lot of people — union members — are really struggling."

Before the relief plan became law, her union had to go door to door to deliver meals to members who were struggling to pay for food. The provisions of the American Rescue Plan, passed by the Democratic Congress and signed into law by Biden in March, have helped.

She specifically points to the 2021 child tax credit expansion, which is providing monthly payments to millions of families with dependent children, and the $1,400 pandemic relief checks. "The stimulus checks were definitely helpful for a lot of people. If they weren't working or were laid off, they were able to buy food, pay some of the rent so they didn't lose their housing."

An estimated 2,368,000 children in Pennsylvania are benefiting from the new child tax credits, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. About 5,876,366 Pennsylvania households received direct relief checks totaling $14,883,553, according to the Congressional Research Service.

A provision in the law that granted $350 billion directly to state, local, tribal, and territorial governments has brought significantly more job security for Hunsicker and the members of her union.

"I worried every month — was I gonna keep working or not?" she recalled. Though her job was deemed essential, many of her members were not so lucky.

With the rescue funds, state government agencies are on much stronger footing: "I'm not worried about it now. Seems like things are getting back to normal, the funding is coming through, and it's helping everyone, in all aspects."

"I've seen a lot of great things happen with the money that we're getting," Hunsicker added. "All the people I'm in contact with, my union members — people are going back to work, they're hiring more people."

Pennsylvania received about $13.7 billion under the law. Hunsicker's home county of Northampton received about $60.7 million, and her home township of East Allen got about $520,000.

But while things are much better than they were at the height of the pandemic, many of the people Hunsicker talks to are still struggling to find the child care they need to do their jobs.

Biden's proposed American Families Plan would make the child tax credit expansion permanent and would ensure low-and middle-income American families spend not more than 7% of their income on child care for kids under age 5. The changes would save families an average of $14,800 annually.

"A lot of our members are single women with children, single fathers with children. As far as the help, it would take a lot of the burden off them as far as worrying about paying rent and getting food on the table," she said, noting that many parents lost their child care options during the pandemic.

"They don't want to lose their job. A lot of my members couldn't find anyone to watch their children. There really is a big need out there."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.