In his April 28 address to a Joint Session of Congress, President Biden announced details of his administration’s American Families Plan. Here in Kentucky, this plan, together with the American Jobs Plan released in March, would spur a stronger recovery and make major long-term contributions toward a more equitable and vibrant economy.
COVID-19 and its economic fallout have further exposed long-standing problems that have held back Kentuckians for decades. Too many families across rural and urban communities can’t afford housing, child care, health care, sufficient food or other basic needs. Kentuckians face deep hardship if they lose employment or get sick, while many work in jobs that don’t pay a living wage.
Because of systemic racism, Black, brown and immigrant Kentuckians face unequal opportunities and outcomes in education, employment, health and housing — disparities that have glared in the pandemic. And our economy as a whole lags because we haven’t made the public investments that we know pay off, such as in early childhood education, in modernizing our physical and digital infrastructure, and in tackling the threat of climate change.
The recovery proposals in the American Jobs & Families Plans begin to address these challenges and move us toward an economy where all Kentuckians can thrive.
The plans do so by investing in high-quality, affordable child care through an expansion of child care subsidies, construction of child care facilities and a permanent increase in the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. They strengthen public education by providing preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds and two years of tuition-free community college through funding to states, and they make higher education more affordable by increasing Pell Grants and reducing tuition at higher education institutions serving people of color.
The new plans will sustain the American Rescue Plan’s (ARP) reductions in child poverty by extending the Child Tax Credit expansion through 2025 and making the credit permanently accessible to the poorest kids, and they will reduce childhood hunger by making the ARP’s summer nutrition programs permanent.
The recovery agenda will create a groundbreaking paid family and medical leave program that will support workers in meeting their caregiving responsibilities. New investments in home- and community-based care will allow more people with disabilities and older people to live well at home, while also creating new jobs and raising job quality for home care workers. The plans will improve health care affordability by extending the ARP’s increase in tax credits for health insurance premiums.
Meanwhile, we will all benefit from the plans’ critical investments in the nation’s ailing infrastructure.
We will see urgently needed, long-delayed improvements in roads, bridges, public transit, housing, drinking water and broadband, projects that will create construction jobs and lay the foundation for greater prosperity.
The Jobs & Families Plans will also help address climate change by creating good-paying union jobs in modernizing the energy grid, improving energy efficiency of buildings, conducting land restoration, generating renewable power and bringing clean manufacturing jobs back home.
Congress should quickly act on these proposals and build on them further, such as by making the temporary Child Tax Credit expansion permanent, increasing low-income housing assistance, taking additional steps to make health care affordable and strengthening the nation’s unemployment insurance system. Our wealthy nation can afford to make all of these critical investments — and we can’t afford not to.
For decades, people at the very top and corporations have reaped outsized gains and used special tax breaks and loopholes to avoid chipping in towards investments in infrastructure, healthy families and thriving communities. It makes sense, as these plans propose, to ask the wealthiest among us and corporations to pay a fairer share of federal taxes for the investments that benefit us all.
There is light at the end of the tunnel with the pandemic. The ARP and other relief proposals have helped Kentuckians endure a very difficult period. But we cannot simply return to the pre-pandemic economy with its growing inequality and widespread insecurity. Kentuckians need Congress to act with the kind of bold investments laid out in these recovery proposals and create an economy that truly works for everyone.
JASON BAILEY is executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. Visit www.kypolicy.org.