Death of Build Back Better Will Hurt Women and Kids the Most

Fifty-one people, 43 of whom are men, are keeping us from legislation that a majority of Americans want and that would benefit all—and in particular—support women, particularly women of color.

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A rally for Build Back Better legislation on Jan. 31, 2022 in D.C. The activists called on the government to pass the Build Back Better Act, a proposal to revamp or bolster childcare, education, healthcare and climate change programs. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

It’s been just over a year since the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was passed, ushering in crucial measures to support Americans after one of the hardest years in our country’s history. As we chart the path forward, it’s also important to look back at why this policy was so effective and popular. To the greatest degree in recent history, the federal government invested in people and trusted them to make the best decisions for themselves and their families by giving them unrestricted cash in the form of an additional stimulus check, enhanced unemployment benefits and an expanded child tax credit that benefited nearly every parent in the country. 

These historic investments had historic results:

  • We cut child poverty by 30 percent.
  • We made record gains in combating poverty overall.
  • We saw a spike in people having enough to eat, a little money in the bank for the next emergency and less physical and mental stress.

All of this resulted in immediate changes to people’s daily lives as well as major upticks in traditional measures of our economy as we experienced more growth last year than we have since 1984. 

In many ways, the ARPA is a prime example of how government should work. Leaders responded to a crisis with swift action (the legislation was passed less than two months after President Joe Biden took office) by lifting red tape and providing direct and effective aid to residents who were battered from more than a year of crisis. 

Unfortunately, that exercise in ideal governing was fleeting. Fast forward a year and ARPA’s successor, the Build Back Better bill, appears as likely to happen as Lindsey Graham treating Black women with respect.

While there was no shortage of energy from House Democrats and many of their Senate colleagues to pass BBB, the bill stalled in the Senate due to the lack of support by Republicans and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. Fifty-one people, 43 of whom are men, are keeping us from legislation that a majority of Americans want and that would benefit all—and in particular—support women, particularly women of color. Policies that would help the U.S. equal the functioning government of developed nations like paid leave, subsidized child care, universal pre-K and the expanded Child Tax Credit. 

Perhaps due to the upcoming midterm elections, many Democrats have stopped speaking publicly about BBB in recent weeks (several requests to BBB supporters in Congress to speak about the legislation were declined). There are a few exceptions, with Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) recently indicating efforts are ongoing to persuade President Biden to enact portions of the sweeping bill through executive order.

Additionally, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) was asked about the status of the CTC at an event last week hosted by Income Movement, an organization dedicated to advancing a national basic income:

“Unfortunately Build Back Better, due to corporate-backed Democrats and a unified Republican opposition, the bill did not receive action and the CTC expansion was allowed to expire which was really just very painful for the many families who really relied on that support.”

In the absence of BBB, Tlaib has put forward standalone legislation, the End Child Poverty Act, which would operate similarly to the CTC expansion.

Whether through legislation or executive action, these programs are urgently needed as families face the highest levels of inflation in four decades due in much part to corporate greed. 

Implementing just two of BBB’s provisions—universal pre-K and paid leave—would boost the economy by $1 trillion by helping American women participate in the labor force at the same rates as their peers in countries that offer better public programs.

Lauren Hoban-Cavallaro, a freelance nonprofit fundraiser who lives in Wilmington, Del., with her toddler son and husband, has sorely felt the absence of the CTC. “We are really missing the child tax credits. They, and childcare subsidies, would go a long way helping my family afford daycare,” she said. “Currently we are spending $1,324 monthly for one child in full time care, which is more than our mortgage. The high cost of childcare means we can’t save for college, we invest less in our own 401ks, and we put off certain purchases.”

Policies that help women aren’t just the right thing to do, they’re the smart thing to do. A new report finds that implementing just two of BBB’s provisions—universal pre-K and paid leave—would boost the economy by $1 trillion by helping American women participate in the labor force at the same rates as their peers in countries that offer better public programs.

It’s not just Congress that fails to realize much of America is still in crisis mode—just this month, the Federal Reserve moved to raise interest rates for the first time in four years and indicated the increase is one of many it plans for the year. Much of this decision was based on low general unemployment numbers, while failing to account for the fact that jobless rates for Black Americans are nearly double their white counterparts. By centering whiteness in this decision, Black and brown communities will be most harmed, forced into higher levels of debt at a time when employment still remains precarious for them. This move in conjunction with Congress’s failure to act on BBB indicates that we are stuck in old patterns that will continue to perpetuate racial inequality. 

Now is not the time to shrink behind austerity politics that prevent our government from meeting the needs of its people, especially those who have always been marginalized. What we need now is courageous governing that moves beyond our tired and ineffective status quo that only serves to uphold historical power dynamics and perpetuate racism and sexism. Appealing to the morality and compassion of our leaders is not doing the trick.

Instead, we set forth this simple equation: Most voters want policies that support everyday people + Congress’s approval rating is a meek 18 percent + seven months until the midterm elections = a lot of lawmakers who may soon need the benefits of a robust safety net themselves.

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About and

Jhumpa Bhattacharya is vice president of programs and strategy at the Insight Center for Community Economic Development in Oakland. You can follow her on Twitter @Jhumpa_b.
Saadia McConville is a writer and former television journalist. She currently runs communications for several economic justice and policy organizations.