Biden’s American Rescue Plan is projected to cut child poverty in half, but it doesn’t address root causes of inequities

MADISON, Wis. — The Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan is estimated to cut child poverty in half this year, with the help from both stimulus checks and an expansion of the child tax credit.

For families that qualify, it will be a $3,600 credit for each child under age six. For children ages six to 17, the credit is $3,000, increased from $2,000.

“The expansion of the child tax credit is projected to benefit 92% of all Wisconsin children because it’s going to provide more relief for families of over a million children in our state and it will specifically help lift over 46,000 children out of poverty in Wisconsin,” said Hayley Chesnik at United Way Dane County.

She said 60,000 people are living in poverty in Dane County, including one in six children.

United Way’s 211 call center, where people can talk to a specialist about the resources they need, has seen a dramatic increase in calls during the pandemic.

“At one point last spring, they were up by 400% our normal call volume. And right now they still remain about double what our normal call volume is,” said Chesnik.

This shows that many families still need help.

Chesnik said over the last 10 years, child poverty in the U.S. has been reduced by just 26%. If the American Rescue Plan can truly cut child poverty by 50%, it will have an immense impact on families across the country.

“For the past year, families weren’t able to pay their rent on time. Families weren’t able to cover utility costs. Families were barely, just barely able to provide three meals,” said Dominique Christian with The Road Home.

The Road Home Dane County provides services for families experiencing homelessness.

Although many families will be able to use the child tax credit to pay off bills and stay afloat, it’s only available for a year. So when the money runs out, some families could go right back to where they are now.

The money is a temporary fix, but it doesn’t address the systems of oppression that got families, especially Black families, in this situation in the first place.

“COVID hasn’t brought on something new, it has essentially exacerbated what was already going on. It has highlighted structural and systemic racism by far,” said Christian. “The COVID-19 pandemic may go away, but how we experience racism in our society is not going anywhere.”

Chesnik said “many years of racial inequities driven by institutional racism” has created a system where Black and brown families are disproportionately represented in unemployment numbers,  homelessness, prison populations, and communities with a lack of healthcare access. They are now also more likely to both contract and die from COVID.

Christian said in Dane County Black people make up just 5% of the population, but 68% of the homeless population.

“We’re going to be right back in the same situation we were after this legislation ends, if we’re not thinking about longer term solutions to help families meet their needs and to get at those root causes of why these issues exist in the first place in our community,” said Chesnik.

Organizations like United Way Dane County and The Road Home Dane County know more needs to be done to find permanent policy solutions to drive long term systemic change.