The American Rescue Plan: A Prescription for Child Health and Stability During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Last week the House voted to advance the American Rescue Plan Act sending the COVID-19 Relief package to the Senate. The $1.9 trillion relief package contains policies that seek to address the economic stability and health of people and communities, providing urgently needed resources to pave the way for recovery. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic recession have worsened an already urgent crisis for the nation’s poorest families. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis, nearly one in six children in America lived in poverty, making them the poorest age group in the country. Almost 73 percent of children living in poverty in America are children of color; nearly one in three Black and American Indian/Alaska Native children and nearly one in four Latinx children live in poverty, compared to one in 11 white children. Research from Children’s HealthWatch and others consistently shows that poverty has a catastrophic and lasting impact on the health and well-being of children, and its vicious cycle – often perpetuated by systemic racism – continuously deepens racial wealth and income gaps that harm our nation, and that ripple through affecting the health of our children and youth.
The American Rescue Plan includes key provisions that will reduce child poverty in America and promote health coverage and access that respond to the current crisis and move our country forward to economic, racial, and social justice.
Some key provisions that will positively affect children include:
- Provides checks to working families to keep them financially secure, ensuring children have access to basic needs. The package also extends unemployment insurance (UI) to assist families in weathering the current economic instability. The package raises both the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) further protecting families with children and lifting families out of poverty. The American Rescue Plan would move more than 4 million children out of poverty according to Columbia University estimates. As Black and Latinx families are over-represented among low-income workers, many working essential jobs, the CTC and EITC improvements will help these families specifically and help reduce inequities laid bare by the pandemic. The EITC and CTC are proven tools for improving health outcomes for children by boosting family resources.
- Paves the way to more affordable health care and coverage for millions of families across the country. The package makes ACA plans and COBRA plans more affordable, protecting low and-moderate income families from medical debt. Additionally, it makes a steep investment in Medicaid to ensure it is there for millions of people who have lost their jobs and health insurance as a result of COVID-19, particularly Black and brown people who face unfair and discriminatory barriers to care and are more likely to live in states that haven’t closed the Medicaid coverage gap. Children’s well-being is closely tied to the health and wellness of their parents; it remains paramount to increase access to health coverage during a health crisis.
- Takes important steps to ensure children do not go hungry. A healthy child is a well-fed child. We know that Black and Latinx families are more likely to confront food insecurity than white families – and directing help to these families is critical. The package boosts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP benefits), expands pandemic EBT, and provides additional funding for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women’s, Infants and Children (WIC) program to keep children healthy,nourished, and ready to learn.
- Provides urgently needed support for low-income renters and people experiencing homelessness, many of them children. The plan also contains additional resources for utilities, counseling, and homeowner assistance. Housing instability threatens children’s well-being and long-term health and is central to a wide range of outcomes ranging from health to education.
- Provides funding for child care and early education programs in order to address this critical need. Access to high-quality child care, particularly for those with low incomes and those harmed by systemic barriers, has always been a challenge in America. At the same time, early educators – disproportionately women of color and immigrant women – are paid very low wages, the result of a historic lack of public investment in a financially stable, equitable child care and early learning system.
- Makes significant investments in paid leave and home visiting programs, building out needed infrastructure to care for young children and their working caregivers. Ensuring parents are able to care for their children and keep their families financially secure is important during the pandemic and has lasting benefits for families. Further, ensuring parents have access to needed support and mentoring to care for their infants is vital to a child’s brain development and paves the way for long-term success.
- Includes significant investment in vaccine supply and distribution, including resources that can be directed to communities that are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Under the plan, Medicaid and CHIP beneficiaries can access COVID-19 vaccines and treatment without cost-sharing for the year following the end of the public health emergency. Broad access to vaccines is important to securing community health and getting children back to school.
- Invests in helping schools support students in accessing needed resources such as learning loss, and other activities to address students’ academic, mental health, and social and emotional needs. Children continue to struggle without in-person schooling. More than ever, children are coping with mental health challenges rooted in trauma, sickness, and isolation. Rates of distress are particularly acute for families with young children.
- We’ve put all this information including policy details into this fact sheet. Take a look.
These are just a handful of provisions that will help the country move toward recovery, centering the needs of children. There is an opportunity for the Biden administration to direct these resources to communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. It will be critical that the administration be deliberate in addressing the trauma children and families will face in the coming years as we work to ensure a healthy return that includes safe and stable housing, continuous affordable health coverage, access to nutritious foods, high-quality child care and supports for families to thrive.
Allison Bovell-Ammon is Director of Policy Strategy at Children’s Health Watch