What the Biden administration can do to battle youngster poverty

Juanita Dominguez (whose real name was changed to protect her privacy) is a Venezuelan immigrant and single mother of two living in Queens, New York. Dominguez was earning a comfortable salary of $ 70,000 as an engineer with a construction company until the pandemic hit and she was laid off.

It was three months before she received unemployment benefits. Meanwhile, her ex-husband stopped paying child support, and with family court hearings severely curtailed during the pandemic, Dominguez had little remedy.

“My first fear was, how should I buy food and rent?” She recalled after reaching out to Urban Upbound (an organization that Suraj holds a volunteer board position that provides banking and employment services as well as financial advice to help end the cycle of poverty in New York). With no income, she dived into her savings and had no choice but to stop making student loan payments. She also maxed out five credit cards – so her family could survive.

In the United States, no family should have to live on the edge. We can help improve the financial security of families like Juanita by providing monthly direct payments to families with children. The American Rescue Plan, the $ 1.9 trillion Covid Relief Act passed in the Senate on Saturday, provides a one-year child tax credit of $ 3,600 for each child under 6 and $ 3,000 for every child under 18 years of age. This is a good thing. In the first step, the benefits for children must be made permanent.

Even before the pandemic, more than 4 in 10 children lived in households that are struggling to meet basic bills, and the United States has one of the highest child poverty rates of any developed country, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Poverty can have lifelong effects on children and negatively impact their learning and development, their physical brain composition, and their adult income.

The Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the problem of child poverty. In New York, where we both live, around 2.1 million children no longer had access to free and discounted meal programs after schools closed, prompting the state to spend $ 880 million in additional food aid. Many students here and around the country also fall behind – or fail to show up entirely – in school because they lack internet connections, laptops, or stable home environments that allow them to fully engage with online learning .

However, this child poverty crisis existed long before the pandemic. This is, in part, a case of our misunderstood political priorities. Currently, less than 10% of the federal budget is spent on children, although government investments in children tend to amortize and some more.

The crisis is also a product of simple economic efficiency: Having children increases the risk of a family falling into poverty: more children mean more mouths to feed. And because many parents have children relatively early in their careers, their lower salaries make them less able to pay the new expenses of raising children. Without government support, many young families pass by without financial security.

This reflects the problem older people faced after the Great Depression. According to the Social Security Administration, more than half of America’s elderly in 1934 lacked sufficient incomes to support themselves. The government responded to this social crisis by creating social security to enable older people to retire adequately and in dignity.

We should do the same at the other end of life. So when I ran for Congress last year, I wrote and advocated a policy that streamlines our complicated child support policy into a single universal child dividend that acts as social security for children. This would have provided $ 500 per month for each child up to age five and then $ 350 per month up to age 18 with no conditions or qualification requirements.

Fortunately, similar proposals have since met with congressional support. Senator Mitt Romney proposed a monthly child support program in February, while the American bailout plan will be sent to the House for final approval on Tuesday, before President Joe Biden is expected to sign it into law.

The Aid Act would greatly benefit millions of families, but could be improved to be more effective. The government should offer additional assistance to families with young children, increasing benefits to $ 500 per month (versus $ 300 per month for children under 6 under the new relief law). That money should also be instantly deposited into new individual bank accounts automatically set up by the Federal Reserve for all Americans – as Senator Sherrod Brown has suggested – so parents don’t have to wait for checks to be cleared in the mail or direct deposits. The bank accounts would also allow parents to spend the money with no fees or minimum balance. Most importantly, the child tax credit is permanent.

For families like Juanita, the benefits could change the path of their children’s lives. “My older son needs a physics and math tutor,” she told us. Ultimately, the benefit would also cover the costs for study applications and SAT preparation.

“Security is everything,” she said. “Financial security helps me be confident. It helps my family grow.” This is the moment for our political leaders to stand up for the economic security that children and families need to thrive.

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