Congress Must Not Turn Its Back on America’s Families

By Wade Henderson

The pandemic has taught us that we can ultimately pull through this difficult time if we do what is best for everyone. Over the past year and a half, too many families and communities across the country lost loved ones, lost jobs or access to their classrooms, and had their lives suddenly upended. But we banded together to face the challenge of adapting and surviving under unprecedented conditions. The strain, however, was felt most strongly by low-income families, especially those in communities of color, who because of systemic racism and decades of structural inequality in almost every area of life were more vulnerable to poverty and economic insecurity — even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

That is why our communities called out the need for the federal government to invest in the type of country we know we can be — one in which everyone can live with dignity and meet their basic needs. As we continue our fight against COVID-19 and the economic crisis it brought on, we need a commitment from our elected leaders to deliver a better future for all.

The expanded child tax credit (CTC) and the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program, passed to address the economic crisis the pandemic exacerbated, have helped provide much needed relief to families and give them the tools to work, study, and connect with their communities. The expansion of the CTC increased the amount families received and expanded who qualified for the full credit, including those with very little to no income. The EBB provides free or discounted internet service — up to $50 a month ($75 on tribal lands) toward the cost of a consumer’s internet bill for people who qualify.

Unfortunately, the expansions to the CTC and the EBB are both temporary. Making the expansions permanent will help ensure everyone can access the same opportunities to succeed. We will not go back to failed policies that perpetuate inequalities and hold our communities back. The devastation communities experienced during the pandemic require us to reimagine what kind of America we want to be. Congress has an opportunity now to reassess policies that have exacerbated disparities and injustice and to invest in all our families by making these two federal incentives permanent.

With broadband now as important as electricity was in the last century, affordable connectivity is more critical than ever. Through the EBB program, Congress has made it clear that affordable connectivity is a top priority with bipartisan support. The benefit tackles an important racial and economic injustice: About 10 percent of both Black and Hispanic Americans and 13 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives have no internet subscription compared to 6 percent of White households. Without affordable technology, communities of color are unable to access health care or educational and job opportunities. The EBB program is an important watershed moment in helping to connect millions of households to affordable broadband — but it is only the first step. The current bipartisan infrastructure bill includes funding to extend the life of the EBB program under a new name and at a slightly lower subsidy level. A rapid and bold effort to support a permanent broadband benefit and digital inclusion program is necessary to meaningfully address the serious gaps in broadband adoption and ensure all families, no matter their color or zip code, can benefit equally from advances in technology. Our health, our economy, and our communities of color will not fully recover without it. 

The expanded CTC and the EBB program are transformative for our society, and they will reduce poverty and increase opportunity for all families — including those who have been fighting against decades of systemic racism and inequality. Already, families receiving monthly CTC payments have used that money to buy groceries and school supplies and to pay for utilities and other essential bills. So far, the CTC has contributed to a 29 percent reduction in child poverty in just two months — lifting more than 4 million children above the poverty line, more than half of whom are children of color. Parents also reported the lowest levels of food insecurity since the pandemic started after receiving the credit.

Congress must not turn its back on America’s families. Failure to make the expanded child tax credit and the Emergency Broadband Benefit program permanent would be a callous policy choice forcing millions of children and their families back into poverty — and we can’t let it happen.

Wade Henderson is the interim president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.