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Poverty
Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Child poverty has been a pervasive issue in the United States as nearly 11 million children are considered poor. That's one in seven children. Rising costs of living — from basic necessities, like rent and groceries, to transportation and childcare — coupled with stagnating wages are putting more children and their families below the poverty line.

COVID-19 has made it worse as families deal with record levels of unemployment. When schools transitioned fully to remote learning, many parents were forced to choose between employment and taking care of their children. The economic impacts of the pandemic can have long-term consequences, including an increase in food and housing insecurity and worse health and education outcomes.

Growing up, my family struggled to make ends meet, and we moved around a lot as my parents looked for work. I was fortunate to be able to go to college where I worked hard and was able to start my career. Now more than ever, I feel that working hard isn't enough to guarantee success. There are too many institutional barriers that keep children in a generational cycle of poverty.

There is no reason why the wealthiest country in the world should be home to 11 million children living in poverty. Most other developed countries offer a child benefit that gives families money to help cover the basic necessities of raising children.

In the United States, we have the Child Tax Credit, but it is much more narrow than the benefit in other countries. Until recently, it didn't serve the people who needed it most, leaving behind one-third of all children who live in families that didn't make enough money to qualify for the full benefit.

That's why Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Ritchie Torres (D-NY) and I introduced the American Family Act, which would give families up to $300 per month per child and make sure all low- and middle-income families can access the full credit.

A one-year version of our proposal was included in the American Rescue Plan. That's because the New Democrat Coalition, a group of 94 forward-thinking Democrats that I lead in the House, endorsed the American Family Act and pushed for its inclusion as a way to rebuild the middle class. The federal government is expected to start issuing these monthly checks to families in July, to help pay for groceries, rent, and other regular bills.

This is only the beginning of this effort. We cannot lift children out of poverty for just one year. Parents need consistency and predictability knowing this support will be here for the long term as they raise their families. Some might contend this will cost too much or will be too hard to achieve. I say how can we afford not to? Childhood poverty costs the nation upwards of $1 trillion a year. Permanent expansion of the benefit is supported broadly by Democrats, including the New Democrats and Progressives. Giving children a fair chance at success is a position that shouldn't be partisan. The permanent enhanced credit is estimated to save eight dollars for every dollar it costs. This means better health and education outcomes for children and more stability and predictability for parents.

President Joe Biden has said he supports making the expanded benefit permanent. This could be a historic opportunity to cut childhood poverty by 55 percent and we cannot afford not to act.

Suzan DelBene, the representative for Washington's First Congressional District, serves as chair of the New Democrat Coalition and vice chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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President Biden signing the American Rescue Plan with Vice President Harris.

Screenshot from official @POTUS Twitter.

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

The $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan signed into law by President Joe Biden on Thursday contains a number of provisions that will provide new help to veterans struggling due to the pandemic.

U.S. veterans have suffered enormously during the pandemic, experts say. A Wounded Warrior Project survey last spring found that more than half reported worse mental health since the establishment of social distancing measures, and, according to an NBC report, the VA's mental health crisis line received 15% more calls in 2020 than in the previous year.

They are also among those who have experienced unemployment, a housing crisis, and extreme food instability during the pandemic, with some areas seeing food bank demand doubled for the military community in 2020.

The American Rescue Plan will bring relief to veterans by allocating $17 billion to the VA, including $14.4 billion for physical and mental health care and $750 million for housing construction and repair.

The law will allocate $50 billion to housing and rental assistance and $400 million to a job training program for veterans.

The Veteran Rapid Retraining Program offers veterans 12 months of direct payments once they enroll in an approved job-training program. It also provides full tuition payments to their program at no cost to the veteran and a monthly basic housing allowance that equals that of a married, E-5 active-duty soldier.

The program aims to provide job training for more than 17,000 veterans.

The relief will fill gaps in support exacerbated by repeated moves by the Donald Trump administration to slash veterans' benefits and health care.

Throughout his time in office, Trump waged war on programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Social Security, all heavily relied upon by veterans.

Nearly one in 10 veterans receives health care through Medicaid, according to the House Committee on the Budget, and more than half have insurance coverage under Medicare. More than 620,000 rely on Social Security benefits, and 1.3 million veteran households receive SNAP food stamp benefits.

In 2019, the Trump administration rolled out policy changes that would have imposed work requirements on SNAP recipients, which would have had a disastrous impact on low-income Americans, including veterans, during the pandemic if advocates hadn't effectively blocked them. They would have cut SNAP funding to at least 700,000 Americans.

The Trump Department of Agriculture fought a lengthy battle in federal court to prevent states from administering emergency food stamps to low-income Americans.

In February 2020, just before onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump released a $4.8 trillion budget proposal that contained sharp budget cuts across the board, particularly to Medicare and Medicaid. The House Committee on the Budget issued a statement days later on the harm it would cause veterans by decreasing funding for these crucial programs.

Trump also made repeated attempts to cut Social Security benefits. He signed an executiveorder in August 2020, during a peak in the pandemic, that established a temporary deferral through December of that year for employees under a certain income level of payment of the portion of the payroll tax that funds Social Security, and pledged to make them permanent if he was reelected.

Trump also exacerbated an enormous staffing crisis within the Department of Veteran Affairs, which provides physical and mental health services to veterans. He enacted hiring freezesimpacting the VA and also cut the Interim Staffing Program, which assigned physicians, nurse practitioners, and assistants to VA hospitals and health care centers when permanent staff went on leave or retired.

When David Shulkin, the first veteran affairs secretary under Trump, took office, he vowed to double the size of the staffing program. Instead, he was removed by Trump after objecting to efforts by the administration to privatize the program, which was shut down to be replaced with a telehealth program.

The Trump administration also hampered the VA's efforts to recruit and retain staff by slashing employee benefits and dismantling worker protections. The most common position left unfilled was that of psychiatrist.

Ted Blickwedel, a former VA counselor, told the American Prospect that the Department of Veterans Affairs under Trump "kept pushing the numbers, the numbers, the numbers," adding, "We had counselors taking leave, burning out, facing suicidal thoughts, or obtaining their own therapists."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.