From the Enhanced Child Tax Credit to Universal Pre-K, Build Back Better Makes ‘Historic Investments' to Help Parents


In addition to addressing climate change and expanding Medicare coverage, the Build Back Better Act, recently passed by the House and now under consideration by Senate Democrats, would also be a game-changer for many parents, advocates say.

The act includes provisions, ranging from paid leave to funding for universal pre-K, that would be especially beneficial to low- and middle-income households, says Kris Cox, deputy director of federal tax policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). But higher-income families would also benefit from the "historic investments," she says.

"The bill as a whole would reduce poverty substantially, and especially child poverty," says Cox. The expansion of the child tax credit (CTC) alone has been shown to significantly reduce child poverty, for example.

Build Back Better has not been voted on by the Senate and will likely change before it is passed. But here are some of the provisions in the House's $1.75 trillion version that would help families.

Enhanced child tax credit

The bill extends the enhanced CTC through 2022. The credit was increased this year to be worth up to $3,000 per child 6 to 17 and $3,600 per child under 6. Families have also received half of the credit in monthly payments since July. BBB makes the expansion amounts advanceable in monthly payments for the entire year.

BBB would also permanently make the credit fully refundable, so families do not need any earned income to receive the money.

The one-year increase in the credit amount is projected to reduce child poverty by more than 40%, as compared to what it would have been without the expansion, according to CBPP. This year, it has reduced the number of households facing food insecurity and lifted millions out of poverty.

While most Senate Democrats want to pass the CTC provision as is, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., has floated adding a work requirement, which would reduce the number of households receiving it, especially low-income families.

Paid family and medical leave

Despite President Joe Biden initially advocating for 12 weeks of paid medical and family leave, House Democrats included four weeks in Build Back Better.

Years of research has shown that paid leave supports child growth and development, improves maternal health and is also a boon to a family's economic stability. Yet the U.S. is one of just a few countries in the world that does not offer paid leave to its citizens.

"This is the U.S. catching up to the rest of the world, in many ways," says Cox.

That said, Manchin has come out against including paid leave in the legislation, and Democrats need all 50 senators on board to pass their agenda with no Republican support.

Subsidized child care

Build Back Better includes funding to help low- and some middle-income families with children under 6 get affordable child care by at licensed providers by subsidizing some or all of the cost.

Subsidies are based on state median income and family size, but most families would pay no more than 7% of their yearly income for care under the bill by 2025.

This plan is not without critics, with some arguing it would drive up the cost of care for middle- and higher-income families that don't qualify for the subsidies right away (there is a three-year phase-in period). The bill also sends billions of dollars of funds to states to address the increased demand for child-care workers.

Universal pre-K

Build Back Better would also cover the federal share of the cost of free universal pre-K for all 3- and 4-year-olds. Democrats estimate this would help around 6 million children.

Cox says that when families can count on subsidized child care and free school programs, their financial stability improves. Parents can go to work without worrying about where their children will be. In turn, "these can help to boost the nation's productivity over time," she says, as more parents are working.

Finally, Cox says investments in affordable housing and closing the Medicaid coverage gap, which is included in Build Back Better, would benefit both families and childless people.

Black and Latino families, who are more likely than white families to live in poverty and not have access to affordable child care, will benefit the most from Build Back Better, she says.

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