In response to the Senate’s passage of the $1.9 trillion COVID rescue package, Century Foundation experts released the following statements on the bill’s economic, health care, and education provisions.
TCF senior fellow Andrew Stettner on the bill’s unemployment insurance and economic provisions:
“The American Rescue Plan will deliver an unprecedented amount of aid to workers facing previously unimaginable economic turmoil wrought by COVID-19. By locking in unemployment benefits through the end of summer, the bill cures a critical problem of the December stimulus.
“The relief package extends almost all of the most successful provisions included in the CARES Act, such as 75 weeks of benefits for both traditional and gig workers who had never before been covered. Additional relief in the form of interest-free loans for unemployment debt, payments for work-sharing, and money for IT is also included. And thanks to the dedicated, tireless advocacy of unemployed workers and their allies, the package includes badly-needed tax relief from major surprise income tax bills for workers who received pandemic unemployment pay in 2020.
“The final bill unfortunately reduces the augmented FPUC top-off from $400 to $300 per week. The plan will continue unemployment aid until the point that the vaccination program can be fully implemented and the economy can begin to reopen, yet we know that even the best-case scenarios won’t get everyone back to work by Labor Day. Congress needs to return to the question of UI reform before then, hopefully with stable solutions that avoid repeated cliffs.”
“Beyond UI, working families will get $1,400 per individual from a third stimulus check, plus they will benefit from a muscled-up child tax credit of $3,000 per child. That is real aid that can help reverse the unprecedented economic inequities laid bare and exacerbated by the pandemic. The federal response to COVID-19 has already averted poverty for millions of Americans, and this package is poised to continue that critical work.”
TCF senior fellow and director of women’s economic Justice Julie Kashen on the bill’s child care and economic provisions:
“After months of calls, letters, tweets, and texts to Congress from exhausted mothers, struggling child care small business owners, employers, early educators, child development experts, advocates and more, Congress came through on the promise of a combined total of more than $50 billion to stabilize the child care sector needed to support families.
“The pandemic’s damage to the child care sector has been severe. More than 5 million women have left the workforce, many due to child care or other caregiving demands, and we are at risk of losing more than $64.5 billion per year in lost wages and economic activity as a result. Many child care programs have closed and more than half say they are losing money every day while they remain open. One in six child care workers have lost their jobs since the recession began.
“The American Rescue Plan will support and stabilize safe, nurturing child care for millions of families across the country, supporting more than 60 percent of the child care programs in the United States. Today, we celebrate. Tomorrow we continue the work to build a sustainable child care system that serves all families, workers, providers and communities; enact paid family and medical leave and paid sick and safe days for everyone; ensure that our loved ones can age with dignity in their homes and communities; and value the family members and paid caregivers who do the work that makes all other work possible.”
TCF senior fellow and director of health care reform Dr. Jamila Taylor on the bill’s health care provisions:
“The American Rescue Plan makes critical investments aimed at supporting the millions of individuals and families who have struggled to access quality health care and coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill includes $50 billion to improve access to testing and increase contact tracing efforts. $16 billion is dedicated to distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, including education and outreach to better ensure vaccine confidence at the community level. It offers premium assistance under COBRA so that laid-off workers can continue to receive much needed health coverage, and it temporarily expands ACA subsidies for two years. It offers mandatory coverage of COVID-19 vaccines and treatment under the Medicaid program without cost-sharing and FMAP increases to promote expansion and help states better support Medicaid enrollees in the midst of budget shortfalls.
“Last but not least, the bill includes a 5-year state option to extend Medicaid coverage in the postpartum period from 60 days to 12 months. And while the inclusion of a state option to extend coverage for new mothers in the sensitive postpartum period is helpful, policymakers should continue to work toward ensuring the 12-month Medicaid coverage extension as a mandatory measure for states beyond the limited 5 years, alongside a generous FMAP increase. Our research shows that the loss of Medicaid just 60 days after giving birth can further entrench economic hardship for mothers, disrupt continuity and coordination of care, perpetuate inequality among mothers of color, and contribute to poor maternal health outcomes.”
TCF senior fellow and K-12 director Richard Kahlenberg and TCF senior fellow and Next100 executive director Emma Vadehra on the bill’s K-12 education provisions:
“After a devastating year for school children, the American Rescue Plan provides historic federal investments in education to begin to make things right. The $130 billion investment in K-12 education funding will allow schools to reopen safely, protect against layoffs and cuts to key educational programs and services, and begin the process of making up for missed learning opportunities. Critically, the bill sets aside funds for states and districts to provide learning and enrichment activities for students, including over the summer and during the school year, a key need as we look towards our young people’s recovery. The bill includes key maintenance of equity provisions to prohibit states and districts from disproportionately cutting funding for low-income schools and communities as some have in previous recessions, to ensure that our hardest hit children and educators don’t bear the brunt of state and local budget cuts. Encouragingly, it also includes $1 billion to expand national service in an equitable way. AmeriCorps members across the country have been serving their communities throughout the pandemic, and this will ensure that they can be a critical part of our recovery—from supporting students’ academic recovery to rebuilding hard hit communities.
“In addition, the relief package’s dedicated $800 million for students experiencing homelessness will begin to provide the support these students and the systems who serve them need to recover. The $350 billion in state and local aid will help school systems and local governments ensure that they can continue to provide critical services, even as so many states have faced revenue drops. And the bill provides $7 billion to close the K-12 digital divide. The bill’s child tax credit will cut child poverty nearly in half, giving millions of school children the opportunity to more fully realize their potential. An unprecedented educational crisis calls for monumental action, and the American Rescue Plan meets the moment.”
TCF senior fellow and higher education director Robert Shireman on the bill’s higher ed provisions:
“The American Rescue Plan provides much-needed resources to colleges and students to compensate for costs and financial losses due to Covid and the economic crises. Further, by providing additional funding for K-12 education, the bill helps relieve budgetary pressures that frequently lead to cuts in state support for public universities and financial aid.
“The relief package protects students and taxpayers by requiring for-profit schools to demonstrate that at least ten percent of their tuition revenue comes from non-federal sources. Predatory for-profit colleges thrive in a weak and unequal economy in which they can prey on adults eager to find training or a credential to improve their job prospects. The problem is multiplied when for-profit schools rope in students by using federal student loan and grant aid programs without adequate quality controls. This bill addresses these challenges head-on, by spurring for-profit colleges to demonstrate that employers, private scholarship programs, and students with means vouch for the value of the school’s programs. It is a critical and long overdue step in assuring quality and fairness in higher education. The bill also closes a glaring loophole in the 90-10 law, which had allowed GI Bill funds to be counted as non-federal aid.
“Finally, the legislation paves the way for the cancelation of some student loans by ensuring that amounts forgiven would not be treated as income by the IRS (for the next five years). In addition to removing one barrier to expanded loan cancellation, the law helps borrowers who, under current federal student loan programs, would have faced tax liabilities for balances forgiven under income-driven loan repayment programs.”
Cover photo: WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 05: The U.S. Capitol is seen in the evening hours on March 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Senate continues to debate the latest COVID-19 relief bill. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images).