WASHINGTON — In February, Vice President Kamala Harris called a meeting with U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, and three other Democratic women in Congress to discuss the “national emergency” at hand.
Harris meant the pandemic, yes, but specifically, how it has forced millions of women out of work through layoffs, furloughs, small business closures and a lack of child care. That’s the main topic the vice president will tackle on Friday as she visits New Haven.
“In one year the pandemic has put decades of the progress we have collectively made for women workers at risk,” Harris, the first female vice president, warned the female lawmakers at the White House. “This is a national emergency.”
And she added, “Without you, each and everyone of you, we will not be able to get the American Rescue Plan over the finish line.”
Less than a month later, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan did cross the finish line and was signed into law by President Joe Biden.
As part of Harris’ “Help is Here” campaign promoting the law around the country, she and DeLauro will highlight on Friday how the law increases the child tax credit and offers billions of dollars to help child care providers reopen.
The goal: To put women back to work by making more child care available. Other reforms in the law increase jobless benefits and food assistance.
“This is like the New Deal. It really is going to change people’s lives,” DeLauro said on Wednesday. “For me the child tax credit is central to really providing the opportunity and security to women and their families.”
Every week since the start of the pandemic, more women in Connecticut have filed continuing employment claims in Connecticut than men, data from the state Department of Labor shows. Two weeks ago, women filed 51 percent of continuing employment claims, but that number was as high as 56 percent in August.
The American Rescue Plan temporarily ups the child tax credit from $2,000 per child to $3,600 per child under age 6 and $3,000 per child ages 6 to 17. This expanded benefit will be available for taxpayers with income up to $75,000, or $150,000 for a joint return; taxpayers who make more can still receive the regular benefit as long as they earn less than $200,000.
Instead of waiting until the 2022 tax filing season, families could start receiving regular installments in payments as early as July — although that date could shift backward due to an extension in the 2021 tax filing season, the Internal Revenue Service commissioner said last week.
Also, the money will now be available to low-income families who do not file taxes — as with stimulus checks — although previously, it was not.
DeLauro is the powerful chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, who has been advocating for expanding the child tax credit for 20 years. When she was a senator, Harris was the first senator to back DeLauro’s legislation to expand the child tax credit, other than the bill’s two co-sponsors.
DeLauro spoke to Harris and President Joe Biden about including this tax credit expansion in the American Rescue Plan in an Oval Office meeting in February, she said. In the meeting, Harris and Biden sat underneath a portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who enacted the New Deal programs in the Great Depression.
DeLauro noticed the portrait and reminded Harris and Biden of Roosevelt’s impact.
“I said that Franklin Roosevelt and Social Security lifted 90 percent of seniors out of poverty and I believe the president and the vice president, with the stroke of a pen, could lift millions of children out of poverty,” DeLauro said.
In Connecticut, 31,000 children under 5 live below the federal poverty level.
“What that tax credit means to a family below the federal poverty level — it’s just a total game changer,” said Beth Bye, commissioner of the state Office of Early Childhood. “It has implications for everything: families trying to pick between child care and food and they need both.”
The temporary change in the child credit will cost the federal government over $100 billion, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
DeLauro plans to try to make this change permanent with future legislation. It’s a move supported by Harris and Biden, but one that could receive opposition from Republicans who support other child tax credit reforms.
The American Rescue Plan also includes billions to support child care providers across the country, including $277 million to help day care and preschools in Connecticut.
That money has not arrived in state coffers yet for distribution to child care programs through grants, Bye said. The state is just now getting ready to hand out $70 million federal funding for child care providers that was included in a December relief package and arrived in February.
Like schools, many child care providers — which include public and private operations — had to shut their doors and many have not reopened or are operating with many vacancies because some children have not returned. Both factors have driven revenues down immensely.
“In Connecticut, I think the data was almost half of providers were putting program costs on their personal credit card to keep programs open because the enrollments were low,” Bye said.
As of last week, 76.6 percent of child care slots available before the pandemic were open in Connecticut, according data collected by Connecticut United Way 211. Over 70 percent of open child care providers also said they had vacant spots.
Reopening child care and providing funding so providers can stay open at reduced capacity could help more women return to work — the many who are employed in the child care industry and in other industries.
Harris and DeLauro are also expected to highlight other aid for families included in the plan and the need for people to get vaccinated. The bill also increases unemployment benefits with an additional $300 weekly benefit through Sept. 6, 2021.
The American Rescue Plan Act is estimated to cost over $1.9 trillion through 2031, but the ultimate price tag could be twice as high if some of the policies like the child tax credit, are made permanent, the Committee for a Responsible Budget found.
Biden is also reportedly preparing to announce a new $3 trillion for infrastructure and other spending as soon as next week.