Biden’s ambitious efforts to strengthen the social safety net are fading

Tammy Lohby

(CNN) – For a few fleeting months in 2021, it seemed as if President Joe Biden was making strides in his promise to level the playing field for more Americans.

Even before his inauguration, he laid out a $1.9 trillion vision that called for larger stimulus checks and more aid for the unemployed, hungry and small businesses. As part of his American Rescue Plan proposal, Biden wanted to increase the child tax credit and make it available to more low-income families, as well as help make child care more affordable. He called for dramatically expanding support for Affordable Care Act plans and restoring pandemic paid sick and family leave benefits.

With Democrats in control of both chambers and the White House, Biden felt he could push for big steps that he said were necessary to address immediate needs. But it would also create – if only temporarily – many unprecedented forms of social support that party leaders have been trying to establish for years, and may be as difficult to dismantle as they had hoped.

In mid-March of that year, Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act that mirrored much of what he proposed with some notable changes, including eliminating a paid sick and family leave provision and increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“This plan is historic,” he said that month. “Overall, this plan will make it possible to cut child poverty in half. Let me say that again – it’s important and historic. It will cut child poverty in half.”

And it happened – for a year.

On Tuesday, the Census Bureau reported that the child poverty rate rose sharply from a record low of 5.2% in 2021, when families were receiving the enhanced child tax credit and third round of stimulus checks, to 12.4% last year. Moreover, the share of children in poverty returned roughly to where it was before the pandemic in 2019, based on a broader alternative measure developed by the Census Bureau. This was the largest jump in child poverty rates since supplementary poverty measures came into effect in 2009.

Overall, the additional poverty rate was 12.4% last year, up from 7.8% last year and higher than before the pandemic. This is the first rate increase since 2010.

Temporary measures and internal resistance

Although the federal government spent a record amount of money in 2020 and 2021 to help the country confront the COVID-19 pandemic, there were limits. The high price tag for Democrats’ ambitions has forced them to make many of their measures temporary — most notably the boost to the child tax credit, which increased payments to up to $3,600 per child and made more low-income parents eligible.

The cost and concerns about rapidly rising inflation ultimately led to the failure of the party’s fall 2021 attempt to push through Congress a sweeping $3.5 trillion package that would dramatically expand the nation’s safety net as envisioned in Biden’s jobs and families proposals. It was supposed to create a universal pre-K program, boost child care subsidies, make community college tuition free for two years, create the first federal paid leave and medical leave entitlement, and expand the child tax credit and other credits.

Democrats wanted to pay for it by raising taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans, but the plans were thwarted by West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a key moderate who has expressed concern about the legislation’s impact on inflation, and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Who later left the party to become independent.

A shortened version of the proposal passed in August 2022, which extended the Affordable Care Act’s key boost to support through 2025, provided record climate investment and made major changes to Medicare, including allowing it to negotiate prices for some drugs for everyone. First time.

More strikes in 2023

More supports that helped Americans get by during the pandemic will end this year.

More than 6.4 million people, including at least 1.3 million children, have already lost their Medicaid coverage since April, when states were again allowed to begin trimming the lists of residents they deem ineligible, according to KFF. At least 15 million enrollees are expected to have their coverage terminated by the end of the process next spring — undermining Biden’s statements that more Americans gained health insurance under his watch.

Also, pandemic support for food stamps ended nationwide this spring, and work requirements for some recipients will begin this fall. The expiration of emergency benefits, coupled with rising grocery prices, has sent more Americans to food banks in an attempt to feed themselves and their families.

The $24 billion in child care grants expire on September 30. More than 70,000 programs could close, and about 3.2 million children could lose their places, according to the Century Foundation.

Moreover, in October, as the pandemic-related pause on federal student loan payments expires, borrowers will be required to pay their monthly bills for the first time in more than three years. Biden has extended the payment moratorium six times since taking office, but Congress prevented him from postponing the date again.

Although the Biden administration has canceled more student loan debt than any other administration, the president’s signature effort to forgive up to $20,000 for millions of low- and moderate-income borrowers was blocked by the Supreme Court this summer.

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The sharp rise in poverty rates — coupled with falling median household incomes — will make the president’s 2024 campaign message that his policies help Americans even tougher.

Indeed, many people are not convinced by his ideas about “environmental economics.” They have a pessimistic view of the economy, partly because of the impact of high inflation on people’s finances, although the pace of price increases has slowed.

About 51% of the public say they believe the economy is still in recession and getting worse, according to a CNN poll conducted last month.

Moreover, only 24% of American adults said Biden’s policies have improved economic conditions, according to another CNN poll released last week, while 58% said his policies have worsened economic conditions.

Biden and some Democrats in Congress are still trying to muster support for restoring the enhanced child tax credit, a task made more difficult by Republican control of the House.

The president responded to Tuesday’s horrific poverty report by blaming the Republican Party.

“Today’s reported rise in child poverty rates is not a coincidence — it is the result of a deliberate policy choice made by Republicans in Congress to block aid to families with children while providing massive tax cuts to the richest and largest corporations,” he said.

CNN Wire
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