President Biden’s Proposed Economic Stimulus Plan Would Help Public Schools and Begin to Alleviate Child Poverty

President Joe Biden has proposed a new pandemic relief package, his “American Rescue Plan,” which includes essential support for public education.

For the clearest overall summary of Biden’s new COVID-19 relief plan, please read the two page statement from Sharon Parrott, the new president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Parrott explains that Biden’s relief proposal addresses the needs of individual workers and families and finally begins to relieve the budget pressures on states, tribal governments and cities resulting from the pandemic-caused economic recession.  You will notice that Parrott pays particular attention to the ways Biden’s plan addresses the needs of America’s poorest children. Here is a very quick extract:

“President… Biden’s emergency relief proposal is a substantial, responsible plan that would significantly reduce the hardship that millions of people across the country are now facing… The President’s proposal would extend a series of important relief measures…. expanded unemployment benefits for millions… the federal moratorium on evictions….  additional funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program…. (and) the recently enacted increase in SNAP benefits…. Rates of food hardship are particularly high among children.”  President Biden’s plan also temporarily expands the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which would help millions of low-income families with children and workers without minor children at home make ends meet…. The proposal would increase the amount of the Child Tax Credit and make the full credit available to the 27 million children who currently don’t get the full credit (or in some cases, any credit at all) because their incomes are too low… The plan calls for substantial additional child care funding, to supplement the funds provided in the year-end relief package. This funding could help child care providers cope with reduced enrollment due to the pandemic and with increased costs to keep children and staff safe.  It also could provide needed help to families to afford child care as more people are able to return to work.” “The proposal includes much-needed state and local government fiscal relief, including funds specifically to support schools and public colleges, funding to hire more local public health workers, and aid to help states and localities avoid laying off more people. Already, 1.4 state and local workers have lost their jobs since February.”

The Washington Post‘s Moriah Balingit explains that a smaller $900 billion relief package—passed in late December by Congress and signed by former President Trump—allocated $54 billion in assistance for public schools that have struggled to reopen as COVID-19 has ebbed and surged from region to region across the United States: “The nation’s public schools, which collectively serve more than 50 million schoolchildren, are set to get about $54 billion in coronavirus aid, funding that will help them cover steeply escalating costs for paying for personal protective equipment, building renovations and for technology needed to educate children remotely… Schools have been waiting for a funding boost for months.  In the first coronavirus package (the CARES Act), passed shortly after schools shut down in March, lawmakers allocated $13 billion for schools. They have not received any additional funding since.”

Education Week‘s Evie Bladd describes how President Biden’s new proposal would add to the extremely minimal $54 billion relief for public schools Congress passed in December. Biden focuses first on helping public schools reopen with adjustments to make schools safe for students and for teachers and staff: “President… Joe Biden is calling for $130 billion in additional COVID-19 relief funding for schools, ramped up testing efforts, and accelerated vaccine distribution strategies to help reopen ‘the majority of K-8 schools’ within the first 100 days of his administration…  The education relief funding in Biden’s proposal could be used for a wide range of purposes, including hiring additional staff to reduce class sizes, modifying spaces to allow for more social distancing, improving ventilation systems, providing school nurses for schools that don’t have them, building up remote learning resources, and providing additional academic and social-emotional supports for students when they return to the classroom.”

When, in December, Congress passed the $900 billion relief bill, Senate Republicans insisted the package be lower than $1 trillion, and cut out assistance for state and local governments in order to pass the bill.  Bladd explains that Biden’s new plan finally proposes to allocate $350 billion in aid to state and local governments. Back in the spring when the House passed the HEROES Act, the bill included $915 in direct relief for state, local and tribal governments in anticipation of state budget drops due to a COVID-19 recession. But the HEROES Act was never taken up by the U.S. Senate, where Republican leaders resisted passing assistance for state governments through the end of the Congressional session. Weakness in the economy this winter as the number of COVID-19 cases has grown alarmingly threatens significantly to reduce the tax revenues on which state governments depend.  The inclusion of $350 billion for state and local governments in Biden’s plan is far less than what was contained in the HEROES Act, but important for public education nonetheless, because state governments are responsible for over 45 percent of all public school funding.

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman urges Congress to enact Biden’s plan: “The narrow Democratic margin in Congress means that the most ambitious progressive goals will have to be put on hold. But the rescue package Biden unveiled… already indicates he won’t exhibit the excessive caution that inhibited President Barack Obama’s response to economic crisis… Biden is seeking… (a) major relief package, including a new effort to reduce child poverty, and he may soon move to make the A.C.A. more generous and cover more people.  He should push hard on both fronts: recent experience shows that smart government spending can do a lot to improve American lives…. (T)here is now widespread agreement among economists that debt is far less of a problem than conventional wisdom asserted… (W)hile the level of federal debt may seem high, low interest rates mean that the burden of servicing the debt is actually very low by historical standards.”

In her statement this week on Biden’s economic relief plan, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Sharon Parrot emphatically agrees: “The robust set of measures in President… Biden’s proposal would meet critical needs and is appropriate to the scale of the crisis we face. Given the current environment, the risk of providing too little economic stimulus and hardship relief far outweighs the risk of providing too much. Policymakers should not repeat the mistakes of the Great Recession, when they inflicted substantial human and economic harm on the nation by shifting to a posture of austerity that weakened the recovery….”

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