With the passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan on March 11, Congress and the Biden administration are taking action.
Across the country, Black and brown people and allies organized, mobilized, voted, and advocated for policies and policymakers that would bring relief from the scourge of the hideously mismanaged COVID-19 pandemic. Staggering from the combined impact of the health crisis and its catastrophic economic fallout—both of which disproportionately harmed Black and brown communities and dramatically worsened long-standing disparities—people demanded that leaders step up to provide immediate aid and to lay the foundation for a more equitable American economy. With the passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan on March 11, Congress and the Biden administration are taking action.
Two things about the relief package are clear: The legislation does not complete the work of fundamentally restructuring the U.S. economy along lines of justice and equity, and at the same time, it is a tremendous step and far more than many expected from a moderate administration—a powerful testament to the work of movements.
The core provisions of the law will cut poverty by 42 percent for Black people and 39 percent for Latinos, with even greater reductions in poverty among Black and Latino children, according to an Urban Institute study.
In addition to $1,400 survival checks, the bill includes a child tax benefit that will provide $250-$300 a month per child, expanded earned income tax credits, increases in unemployment benefits and food assistance, funds for vaccine distribution, and historic investments in child care, housing, education, transit, retirement security, small businesses, health care and public health infrastructure.
It directly and visibly improves the lives of people who are struggling with the pandemic and its economic fallout[.]
The law incorporates key principles for an equitable recovery: It directly and visibly improves the lives of people who are struggling with the pandemic and its economic fallout, investing resources in poor and working people who are disproportionately Black and Latino rather than pretending that tax cuts for wealthy households and businesses will somehow trickle down. It also makes vital investments in public goods, providing $350 billion for state, local, and tribal governments to continue providing crucial services and avoid layoffs of public workers, while prohibiting states from using the aid to cut taxes.
The American Rescue Act targets relief to hard-hit Black and brown communities, for example by steering the most school funding to the poorest school districts—which, due to a legacy of divestment and discrimination, are disproportionately Black and Latino—and by incorporating legislation introduced by Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock to address historic discrimination against Black farmers. Families with mixed immigration status, including American spouses and children of undocumented immigrants—some of whom were excluded from previous rounds of economic support—will be eligible for survival checks. Undocumented immigrants, including many essential workers that the country depends on, will still not qualify for support.
For all its strengths, the American Rescue Act has significant limitations.
For all its strengths, the American Rescue Act has significant limitations. In a stinging defeat for working people, the Senate parliamentarian stripped away provisions that would have gradually raised the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and finally eliminated the racist, sexist subminimum wages for tipped workers. The measure would have increased pay for 32 million workers, including 31 percent of Black workers and 26 percent of Latino workers. The fact that the Senate parliamentarian—elected by no one—was granted the power to remove this crucially important and widely supported provision is a clear warning that the anti-democratic mechanisms built into the Senate need to be eliminated.
The Senate filibuster is one major obstacle to further progress toward a more equitable economy: As my colleague Laura Williamson and her co-authors explain in an incisive new report, the filibuster is “a racist remnant of a Senate designed to entrench white minority rule. It undermines organizing, participation, and electoral victories fueled by Black and Brown communities” and must be discarded in order to continue building a more equitable and democratic economy.
This is particularly relevant because even the best provisions in the American Rescue Act are temporary measures: the tax credits that will lift families out of poverty are in effect for only a single year, for example, and expanded unemployment benefits will expire in September. While the short-term infusion of cash will support households through the worst of the downturn, and provide a vivid illustration that government can deliver real relief for people, it is far from enough. Making these provisions permanent, and advancing pro-democracy legislation, workers’ rights, immigration reform, climate equity, public safety, and other priorities remain urgent.
Rep. Cori Bush said it best: “Direct cash will help make ends meet today, but our work for lasting economic justice will continue tomorrow.”