President Joe Biden wants Congress to take an open-the-spigots approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, spending almost $1.9 trillion on a slew of efforts to beat the disease, help desperate households and businesses, fill yawning gaps in state and local budgets and pump up the economy. The COVID relief bill advancing through the House would also provide targeted help to low-income Americans and families with children, potentially making a big dent in poverty in this country.
The attention to those at the bottom of the economic ladder is welcome, given that the miseries of the pandemic were felt more deeply by poor Americans than prosperous ones. COVID-19 reversed years of slow but steady progress against poverty in the United States; according to researchers at Columbia University, the poverty rate rose from 15% in February 2020 to almost 17% in September.
But there's one important caveat about the Biden plan and the House bill implementing it: Most of the anti-poverty provisions would expire after one year.
There's bipartisan support for modifying the tax code and child welfare programs to do more to combat poverty. The budget reconciliation bill approved by the House Ways and Means Committee last week, which implements the tax-related parts of Biden's COVID relief plan, would do both in worthwhile and at times novel ways.
It's not cheap — the price tag is almost $110 billion, by the Joint Tax Committee's estimates. But the potential payoff is a sharp decrease in poverty, and particularly in child poverty, according to an analysis by the Niskanen Center, a moderate-to-libertarian think tank.
The bill would also extend and improve the earned income tax credit, which Congress created in 1975 to give low-wage earners a bigger financial reward for working.
These are sensible steps that target aid to where it's needed most, and they would make a real difference in millions of Americans' lives even if the aid expires after one year. But entrenched, intergenerational poverty will still plague this country after the pandemic is gone. Congress should start work now on a permanent version of the poverty-fighting tax changes in the Biden plan.
Congress is moving fast on Biden's plan to address COVID-19. But after that work is done, it needs to keep its focus on poverty to make sure the lifelines offered this year aren't yanked away in 2022.
Los Angeles Times