Updated March 12 at 11:45 a.m. PT.
Just a little more than a month into the Biden administration, and a full year into the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis, the government has taken decisive action to help American workers and families.
Designed to stimulate the economy and help people survive the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed along party lines in the Senate last week. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed the bill once again. And on Thursday, President Biden signed it into law.
The American Rescue Plan goes beyond stimulus checks. It includes provisions for a variety of important feminist issues, including investments in the child care sector, child tax credits and education.
Direct Checks and Boosts to Unemployment
The bill’s broad reach and holistic approach will help Americans recover economically in many aspects of our lives. Direct stimulus checks of $1,400 will be sent to all individuals earning up to $80,000, and couples earning up to $160,000, plus an additional $1,400 per dependent.
It also extends a $300/week unemployment boost through September, and commits over $20 billion to nationwide vaccine distribution and combating vaccine hesitancy, which primarily impacts women and people of color, as a result of medical discrimination and historic injustices.
“About the Children … and the Economic Security of Their Families”
The bill makes education and child care a priority, allotting over $128 billion to K-12 schools to help them reopen safely, and $40 billion to colleges and universities to create emergency grants for students. Reopening schools will help take pressure off the parents—overwhelmingly moms—who are being forced to juggle working from home and assisting children with online learning.
“The Biden American Rescue Plan is about the children, their health, their education, [and] the economic security of their families,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said to her colleagues before the final vote. “This legislation is one of the most transformative and historic bills any of us will ever have an opportunity to support.”
Child care workers have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, with 56 percent of child care programs saying that they’re losing money everyday—and that’s the ones who have managed to stay open until now. At the beginning of the pandemic, 350,000 child care workers lost their jobs in a single month, and half haven’t been rehired. The American Rescue Plan provides a path forward for those workers, who are disproportionately women of color, dedicating $15 billion to supporting child care facilities in high-need areas.
In a statement on Wednesday, Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal praised Congress and the Biden administration for its legislative victory, and broke down what it means for women and other underserved groups:
“The passage of the American Rescue Plan today is a victory for women, especially women of color who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and low-income and middle-class families. It is the most progressive act passed since Medicare and Social Security, slashing childhood poverty in half by giving money directly to the families that need it most. It recognizes the importance of women in the labor force, many of whom are essential workers, by providing $50 billion in assistance to stabilize childcare providers. It gives child care providers the opportunity to apply for paycheck protection programs. We strongly encourage Congress to make the child tax credit permanent.
“The Feminist Majority Foundation commends the Biden administration, the House, the Senate and all the courageous lawmakers who fought to pass this legislation and am hopeful that this bill will act as a foundation to build upon in the months and years ahead.”
The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) similarly emphasized the importance of centering women on the path to recovery, in the American Rescue Plan and beyond.
“As the impact of this crisis has illustrated, our path to recovery requires putting the needs of women of color at the center. Lawmakers should use this momentum and continue the fight for working families, including a $15 minimum wage and real paid leave. A full recovery will require investing in a durable and quality care system that meets the needs of families and workers over the long haul. We can rise to meet the challenge before us.”—Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center
The package provides support for low-income parents, increasing the value of Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) vouchers for four months, and incentivizing employers to provide paid sick and family leave.
Additionally, the bill will expand and temporarily increase the child tax credit to $3,000 for children ages 6 to 17 and $3,600 for children under age 6, essentially creating guaranteed income for families for a year. Proponents of the bill believe that these measures could lift 12 million out of poverty—particularly Black and Latinx families—and cut the child poverty rate in half.
ParentsTogether—a group representing 2.5 million parents nationwide—celebrated the bill as a win for children and their families, calling the Rescue Plan “a long-overdue piece of legislation which will help millions of families who are struggling to pay for basic necessities like food, housing, and utilities.”
“Specifically, the expanded child tax credit of up to $300/month per child is a revolutionary proposal which will cut the child poverty rate almost in half, and which, importantly– acknowledges the work parents do as essential and important.
“American families deserve support from their Government no matter what, but especially during an international health crisis. We are looking forward to President Biden signing this bill into law, and we urge Congress to continue supporting American families by making the new monthly payments to parents permanent.”—ParentsTogether co-director Justin Ruben
Struggling with a lack of child care during the COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be a substantial obstacle for women in the workforce, especially women of color, who have been forced to leave jobs in record numbers in order to care for and homeschool children.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) praised the bill as a historic investment into working families:
“With signing the American Rescue Plan Act into law, President Biden and Congress gave so many struggling families a lifeline. Close to 2.5 million domestic workers—predominantly Black, Latinx, and Asian, immigrant working class women—care for our homes and families, doing the work that makes all work possible. Yet they have continually risked their health and the health of the families without support. The American Recovery Plan is a historic and vital investment that gives working families a fighting chance from crisis to recovery.
“The American Rescue Plan will deliver an unprecedented amount of aid to workers facing previously unimaginable economic turmoil wrought by COVID-19. And it will bring more money to the home and community-based industry, especially to cover increasing reimbursement rates and support for recruitment, which will help aging adults and disabled individuals live independently in their homes and communities.
“A year into the pandemic, we know one thing is true: our recovery plan needs to be centered on the prosperity of those who have been devastated by the crisis. Building on this historical momentum, we look forward to working with the administration and Congress to deliver a robust economic recovery plan to working families.”
TIME’S UP, which centers workplace equality in its mission, stressed the urgent need for relief amongst working women:
“At a time when low-paid workers—majority of them women, and disproportionately women of color—are suffering economically in unprecedented ways, the American Rescue Plan offers much-needed emergency relief to ensure our workers and small businesses can weather this storm and that our communities come out of this stronger.
“This legislation is a monumental first step, but the structural barriers that women workers have faced for generations aren’t going away. If we do not act now, we are on the verge of erasing decades of progress we have made towards gender equity in the workplace. And our inadequate caregiving system has been strained to a breaking point.
“That’s why the next step must be comprehensive and permanent care solutions, including national and permanent access to paid leave, affordable child care and in-home elder care, and fair wages and protections for caregivers. We know these measures have overwhelming bipartisan support from voters across the country. A public and permanent investment in a robust care infrastructure will not only help women get back to work — it is the kind of infrastructure investment we need to create millions of jobs and build a more just and sustainable economy for everyone.”—Tina Tchen, president and CEO of TIME’S UP Now
Rental Assistance Will Most Benefit Survivors and Those Experiencing Homelessness
Finally, the plan acknowledges those who are extremely vulnerable during lockdowns, setting aside $25 billion for rental assistance, with $5 billion designated to help survivors of domestic abuse and people who are experiencing homelessness.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) called the plan “a monumental piece of legislation,” expressing confidence in its ability to have a widespread impact, despite being stripped of some provisions surrounding unemployment eligibility and an increased minimum wage.
“As Whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, I worked hard to ensure that the package that the House passed was as bold as possible, keeping the thresholds for survival checks the same, including essential funding for housing, utilities, and a child tax credit that will cut poverty in half…. It remains one of the boldest pieces of economic legislation in generations. And for that reason, I will proudly support it.”
After months of debate, with millions of Americans’ lives on the line, the passage of the American Rescue Plan is a historical achievement by the new administration. Once signed by President Biden on Friday, it promises to bring relief to the many women, children, people of color and essential workers who have borne the brunt of the pandemic, without adequate support, for far too long.
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