It appears that after months of negotiations, Democrats in Congress are poised to pass President Biden’s Build Back Better Act. The bill is a pared down--but still substantial--$1.75 trillion budget plan, including $400 billion for child care and preschool, and $200 billion for the child tax and earned income tax credits. Together, these, along with other essential investments in BBB, have the potential to substantially improve the lives of working families, especially those with children.
The framework significantly increases public investments in early childhood education by dramatically reducing the cost of child care so that no family pays more than 7% of their annual income. In addition, the bill invests public funds to help states provide high-quality Pre-K 3 and 4 to all families with young children and extends the American Rescue Plan’s Child Tax Credit, putting money back into the pockets of parents as they return to work.
The universal pre-K and child care proposals included in BBB are similar to those already passed in DC, and thanks to the expected new federal investment, will help us deliver relief and support to families and workers. Once implemented, Build Back Better will dramatically reduce the cost of care for families, who pay, on average, more than $2,000 per month for care. The bill will also help boost wages and compensation for early educators, most of whom are Black and brown women. In a city of growing income inequality, these cost savings for middle- and low-income families would be a strong step toward reversing race and class disparities. Furthermore, as leaders on Pre-K 3 and 4, we look forward to pushing the District to use these new federal funds to strengthen and expand our current system so that more young children have access to a strong start.
Beyond early childhood, the Build Back Better Act includes many forms of support for children and families. Perhaps most importantly for families who have been relying on the monthly Child Tax Credit payments that started in July, it extends that credit for one year (and continues not to require paid employment in order to receive the credit). In the first month after payments began, the most common uses District families reported were paying bills, buying clothing, and purchasing food for their family. Overfall food security increased substantially. Extending this benefit provides a much needed safety net for families. The Act also expands free school meals and provides $65 per child over the summer to purchase food.
For youth, the act increases the maximum amount available for Pell Grants, which expands financial aid available for college students from low-income families, and improves access for Dreamers (young people who arrived in the US as children without immigration documentation). The bill also funds more financial aid for low-income students attending historically Black colleges and universities, as well as those attending colleges and universities serving other historically excluded groups.
While the Build Back Better Act does not include everything we would have wanted for children, youth, and families, DC Action will continue to push at the local level to deliver what families need. It is important to emphasize that if DC had statehood, this agreement would have been much stronger, with two senators from the District helping to negotiate the final package. That said, BBB is still a massive step forward in building a society which embodies the expression that “it takes a village to raise a child,” providing the support that families need to care for their children. We are counting on our local policymakers to continue the work.