Parity, health care, nutrition provisions are welcome

First Focus Campaign for Children is pleased to see several important gains for children in the COVID-19 relief package passed last night by Congress. The legislation offers an important starting point for addressing the pandemic-related hardships suffered by our country’s families and children, but it is clear that more — much more — will be needed in the New Year.

“As child advocates, we have long pushed Congress to treat children with the same respect and concern they often reserve for adults,” said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus Campaign for Children. “This package offers children the same relief payments as adults, does not limit the number of children eligible per family, allows some children in mixed-status families to receive benefits and, critically, extends enhanced unemployment benefits, all items that First Focus has actively asked lawmakers to consider. We’re pleased that this handful of positive elements made it into the legislation, but it is important to consider them a down payment on more generous, more effective relief to be secured from the next Congress and Administration early next year.”

Here is a brief summary of some of the deal’s key elements:

Favorable outcomes:

  • Parity in relief payments: Children and adults both will receive $600 per person in economic impact payments. These equal payments indicate that Congress recognizes that every aspect of children’s lives is being negatively affected by COVID-19 and its economic recession.
  • No inclusion of a family cap: The package does not limit benefits to a certain number of children per family. This provision wisely recognizes that larger families have greater needs, particularly through this crisis when kids are at home and limited resources are stretched even further.
  • Mixed-status families: Under the CARES Act, couples were excluded from relief payments unless both had a Social Security Number. The package retroactively corrects that provision, making these families eligible to receive payments for all members of the household who have a Social Security Number. This change in policy includes 3.5 million mixed-status families who were left out of the previous direct payments. Caveat: The National Immigration Law Center projects that the new measure “continues to exclude over four million immigrant workers, taxpayers, and their U.S. citizen family members—including two million children…
  • Extended unemployment benefits: The package delivers $300 per week — in addition to state unemployment benefits — to unemployed individuals for 11 weeks. This provision will be particularly helpful to adults with children, a group that the recession has disproportionately affected, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
  • Health care: Section 208 of this package restores Medicaid eligibility for citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau who lawfully reside in the United States under the Compacts of Free Association. Medicaid covers 38 million low-income children, a number that is likely to grow during the pandemic-induced recession.
  • Nutrition: The bill increases the maximum benefit of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by 15% — for six months. It also expands benefits of the Pandemic EBT program to all children under the age of 6 by deeming them “enrolled” in child care, and clarifies the meaning of a school “closure” to continue delivering benefits when schools shift between in-person and online learning. These measures will help to alleviate the hunger of millions of children.

Encouraging first steps:

  • Child care: The package provides $10 billion for child care. It’s encouraging that Congress put something toward this vital piece of economic infrastructure, but the amount falls far, far short of the more than $50 billion needed. Ten billion dollars is also the lowest amount offered by any of the COVID relief bills proposed over the last few months, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s “skinny” bills. This provision can only be considered positive if it is fully intended as a down payment on future relief in an appropriate amount.
  • Taxes: The broader package allows taxpayers to “look back” to earned income from 2019 to determine the amount of their Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit for the 2020 tax year. This provision will provide greater refunds to people who lost jobs and/or income because of the pandemic in 2020.
  • Housing: Lawmakers extended to January 31st the eviction moratorium imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which ideally will be implemented to protect children, youth, and families living in hotel and motel rooms. The package also includes $25 billion in rental assistance, which ideally will be distributed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to include children, youth, and families identified as homeless by other federal statutes.

Deeply disappointing:

  • Exclusion of young adults from relief: Children 17 and older are not eligible for the $600 per child tax credit. Nor are adult dependents eligible. Older youth and young adults have disproportionately suffered from job loss and other effects of the pandemic and its economic fallout. Congress’ failure to recognize them highlights a long-standing intergenerational problem that ignores the needs of our young people trying to succeed against barriers that other generations did not face.
  • Child Tax Credit: Now more than ever, families with children need regular, reliable support to pay bills and buy food. Despite growing support for strengthening and expanding the Child Tax Credit to make it fully refundable, last night’s package failed to deliver.