The recovery legislation taking shape in the House of Representatives will allow our families and our economy to achieve our long-term potential by reducing longstanding racial and economic inequity. It expands opportunity, creates jobs, lowers the costs of health care and makes economy-boosting investments that will improve Georgians’ lives—investments paid for by rebalancing the tax code so that everyone pays their fair share. These proposals will not only help families recover from the pandemic and weather future emergencies like a flat tire or hospital stay, but also help make our economy more equitable.
Hardship in Georgia remains high. As of the end of August, more than 1 in 4 Georgia adults were having trouble paying for usual household expenses, and 11 percent of adults raising children said they were unable to afford enough food.
However, the policies Congress is pursuing have the power to build an economy that works better for everyone.
Policies to Transform Our Economy
Congress’s proposals are a clear investment in our families. Take the Child Tax Credit, (CTC) which sends money back to families raising children so they can afford necessities. In the American Rescue Plan (ARP), lawmakers extended the CTC to families with low or no earnings in a given year, increased the benefit amount and made monthly checks, rather than an annual lump sum, available. The new proposal makes refundability—the provision extending the credit to those with low incomes—permanent and includes a five-year extension of the other aspects of the expansion. This plan would reduce child poverty in Georgia from 14.8 percent to 8.8 percent. The latest proposal also allows parents that file their taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number to be able to claim the tax credit, which means more immigrant families will be able to access the credit. The policy also lifts nearly 700,000 Georgia kids near or above the poverty line and helps about 470,000 Black Georgians under 17 access the benefits of the CTC.
The CTC isn’t the only tool proposed to boost incomes and help families afford necessities: Lawmakers are also considering permanently expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to the over 600,000 workers with low wages who are not raising children who were made eligible under the ARP. An EITC reduces the amount of income tax owed by families with low or moderate incomes.
The plan also supports healthy communities, particularly in states like Georgia that have left out too many uninsured by refusing to expand Medicaid. Lawmakers would create a pathway for uninsured Georgians who would qualify for Medicaid coverage if their state expanded the program to the full extent under federal law to access it via a national program. This plan will help the nearly 270,000 Georgians who make too much to qualify for Medicaid and not enough to get premium tax credits on healthcare.gov access health care coverage. A disproportionate share of those in Georgia’s coverage gap are people of color.
Another positive step toward boosting outcomes is the postpartum Medicaid provision which, if passed, would allow states to choose to provide Medicaid to parents with low incomes for up to one year after giving birth. Postpartum Medicaid has been proven to boost maternal and infant health, which is particularly important in Georgia. We rank No. 49 for our rate of maternal mortality, meaning we have the second-highest rate of all states. Moreover, the maternal mortality rates for Black women in Georgia are three to four times higher than for white women. Georgia took a strong step in the right direction when we expanded postpartum Medicaid to six months rather than the default 60 days, but extending to one year would better address health inequities.
Supports for Georgia’s workforce made it into the proposal, as well. Lawmakers are suggesting an increase in the maximum value of Pell grants to make higher education more affordable for students, including immigrants with DACA status. This change will help the 228,000 students in Georgia who receive federal need-based Pell grants better afford college as well as some of the 20,000 DACA recipients in Georgia.
Improvements Still Needed To Truly Maximize Potential
Although the proposals are a strong step, lawmakers are still leaving some options on the table. This is a moment that can’t be wasted. Georgia’s federal delegation should not only support the existing proposals but look for other opportunities to strengthen the legislation—and therefore boost economic opportunity.
For example, the proposed legislation does not establish guardrails around how state Unemployment Insurance (UI) programs work—for example, by ensuring a minimum benefit amount and number of weeks during which states must provide benefits. This is critical to ensuring an equitable recovery because as of now, people of color have been left out of the slowly rebounding economy. From the start of pandemic-level UI enrollment in April 2020, up to May 2021, UI enrollment among Black and Hispanic/Latinx workers declined at a pace nearly 10 percent slower than white and Asian workers, marking a recovery that, due to both systemic barriers that have led people of color to be overrepresented in the industries vulnerable to layoffs during the pandemic and individual biases in hiring, has been slower to reach Black and Hispanic/Latinx Georgians. Meanwhile, Georgia’s Department of Labor has failed to meet the needs of our state’s unemployed workers—making federal changes to UI critical to the wellbeing of workers and their families.
Moreover, although the plan extends all provisions of the CTC expansion through 2025 and makes the full credit available to children from families with the lowest incomes permanently, to best support child wellbeing lawmakers should ensure the increased benefit amount and monthly payments are also permanent. After all, grocery bills or a leaky roof won’t wait until tax season to come around.
As details are ironed out, lawmakers should also look to further bolster revenue options by increasing supports to ensure high-income people can’t shield their income from taxation and implement requirements to help the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) identify households that underreport their income.
Cost of Inaction Is Too High
The proposal also includes several revenue options that will help rebalance our tax code so that everyone—including corporations and the wealthy—pays their fair share. Revenue raisers focus on closing loopholes and ending tax cuts that benefit corporations and the wealthiest households, which have prospered even as the pandemic raged. These alongside health savings in the proposal would offset nearly all of the costs in the plan.
The types of investments included in the proposal are necessary if we want to improve our economy in the long run. They will provide Georgians with the tools they need to go to work, stay healthy, put food on the table, care for their loved ones and improve quality of life for all.
Without new investments, Georgia families will continue to struggle to afford the things they need to thrive and prosper, such as health care, rent and child care. Too many people struggled to make ends meet even before the pandemic. Over a three-year period before the pandemic, more than 1 in 3 households with children struggled to afford adequate food, shelter or utilities. Among Black and Latinx households with children, it was 1 in 2. And these hardships have been greatly exacerbated by the economic downturn caused by the global pandemic.
In fact, the risk here is not doing too much—it’s doing too little. The Senate must hold the line and support House proposals that would build a stronger, more equitable economy that works for all Georgians, not just those at the top, and then look for ways to improve the House package, such as adding guardrails around UI and making all of the recent CTC improvements permanent.