Responding to the American Rescue Plan Act

by Etta O’Donnell-King

Once again, we have a new COVID response bill with new impacts on folks experiencing poverty. On March 12, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act, a bill providing $1.9 trillion for more comprehensive COVID relief. This funding has opened a lot of opportunities for us to access resources including $4.6 billion allocated to Oregon.

There has been specific investment in food insecurity and poverty reduction resources. This includes an extension of Pandemic EBT until the end of the federal emergency declaration, an extension of the 15 percent boost to SNAP benefits until September 30, 2021 and technological improvements to make grocery shopping using SNAP easier and more accessible. With this, the Act provides $1 billion for food assistance to Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the Marianas Islands.

This bill includes broader supports to help low-income community members and families. It allocates $100 million for rental assistance through September 2022 targeted specifically at older citizens and low-income families. With this bill, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which was slated to expire in mid-March is now extended to September 6, 2021, which extends the period that people who have lost their jobs are eligible for unemployment benefits.

A huge change made in this bill are those made to the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit. Together, these changes will lift 5.5 million children out of poverty. The Act makes the full Child Tax Credit available to children in low-income families, raising the maximum credit from $2,000 to $3,000 per child and $3,600 for children under age 6, and extending the credit to 17-year-olds. The maximum amount of the credit begins to phase out at a higher income level, This change alone will lift 4.1 million kids out of poverty.

The changes to EITC, while having a multiplied impact on families with children, will specifically have a positive effect on low-paid working adults who are not raising children, a demographic rarely focused on with these tax credits. The maximum EITC will be raised for “childless workers” from about $540 to about $1,500, raising the income cap to qualify from about $16,000 to at least $21,000, and expanding the age range of those eligible to include adults aged 19-24 who aren’t full-time students and those 65 and older. This will extend support to over 17 million people who work for low pay, including the 5.8 million childless workers aged 19-65.

As always, we are happy to see these changes because they do make a functional difference for families, but we remain apprehensive. It is important to know that federal changes are not the solution to bring us all to liberation. The services that the federal government provides are not accessible to many people and participation in them requires subjugation to that system. Folks in poverty should not have to prove themselves to the government to meet their basic needs and dignity. We still will monitor these changes and share them to make sure that these services are available, because they do make a difference, but know that we are not reliant on them as anything close to liberatory.