Up until now, the relief many of us have felt about the incoming Biden administration and a Democratic congress was mostly abstract. We were excited about a return to stability and an absence of racists and xenophobes at the top. But when President-Elect Joe Biden spoke about his $1.9 billion proposed American Rescue Plan on Thursday, that relief started to look even more concrete — especially for parents who have been struggling throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We will move Heaven and Earth to get more people vaccinated, to create more places for them to get vaccinated, to mobilize more medical teams to get shots in peoples’ arms, and to increase vaccine supply and get it out the door as fast as possible,” Biden said on Thursday. “We will also do everything we can to keep our educators and students safe and to safely open a majority of our K-8 schools by the end of our first 100 days. We can do it, if we give school districts, communities, and states the clear guidance they need as well as the resources they will need that they cannot afford right now because of the economic crisis we are in. That means more testing and transportation, additional cleaning and sanitizing services, protective equipment, and ventilation systems in the schools.”
Since we first started discussing how and when kids would return to school and daycare amid the pandemic, money has been a huge factor. Schools needed more funds to upgrade ventilation systems, provide masks and cleaning supplies to teachers and staff, and distribute laptops or tablets to students. They also needed to hire enough teachers to offer both remote learning and in-person learning with smaller, socially distanced classes. Meanwhile, shutdowns meant that states and cities were collecting less tax revenue, so school district budgets were shrinking just when they should be growing.
Last fall, when SheKnows and Rolling Stone held a roundtable with educators about returning to school, everyone said that money would be the key to giving children a safe, equitable education in the COVID reality.
“I think that it’s going to be an incredibly challenging thing to come back from this,” Lynette Guastaferro, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Teaching Matters, told us. “And it’s going to require persistence, and double the effort and resources — way more resources put into education to address this in the next few years.”
We don’t even need to remind you what was going on for parents in the meantime, as those of us who can work from home and care for our children count ourselves as lucky, compared to those who lost their jobs or had to go to find some safe place to send their children so they could go to in-person workplaces.
Biden’s plan isn’t going to make all those troubles disappear on January 21. But here’s how it may provide real relief to parents, caregivers, and teachers if Congress can pass it:
By providing an additional $130 billion to schools. Some of that will go toward the aforementioned needs. Some of it is designed to increase testing efforts. There is also a plan for a COVID-19 Educational Equity Challenge Grant, “which will support state, local and tribal governments in partnering with teachers, parents, and other stakeholders to advance equity- and evidence-based policies to respond to COVID-related educational challenges and give all students the support they need to succeed,” the transition team said in a release, according to Education Week. That means the lower-income and special-needs students who have been left behind for the past year might have a chance to catch up. This is what happens when we get a teacher as first lady.
By giving parents an increased child tax credit. The current tax credit for parents is capped at $2,000 for children under 17. Biden wants that increased to $3,600 for children under 6, and $3,000 for children 6-17. That amount would also be refundable for parents who don’t earn enough to pay that much in taxes.
By giving parents an increased childcare tax credit for one year. Families that make $125,000 or less with children 13 or under would get a credit of up to $4,000 for childcare spending for one child, $8,000 for two or more children.
By providing $40 billion to help childcare providers. That’s $25 billion for a new emergency fund to help providers, including home daycares, stay in business; plus an additional $15 billion for the existing Child Care Development Block Grant, which helps low-income families pay for childcare.
By expanding and extending paid family leave. The plan reinstates the CARES Act paid leave that expired in December. It also expands eligibility for that leave to people who work for companies with 500 more employees and federal workers. In addition, anyone whose child’s school or daycare is closed due to COVID can get 14 days of paid leave.
By increasing funding to state and local governments. With $350 billion more in funding, those governments can fill in the school budget gaps left by falling tax revenue, and then continue to do other things that help the community, such as increased testing and tracing.
By putting more money in people’s pockets. The additional $1,400 in proposed checks to individuals and $400 in weekly unemployment benefits will go a long way toward helping parent make ends meet if they’ve lost income and/or jobs in the past year. Even if you haven’t, the whole economy will get a boost when those in need get more spending power.
Will all of this happen? Probably not exactly as outlined. But if it looks good to you, get on that phone or find the email addresses of your representatives and senators ASAP.
While schools keep opening and closing, here are some ways to keep your kids occupied at home.