OPINION: Help Is Here for Washington State Families With the American Rescue Plan

by Senator Patty Murray

Every day for the past year, I’ve heard from families across Washington State about just how hard this year has been. Single moms who were struggling to find quality affordable child care for their kids because the pandemic has closed down so many child care centers. Hardworking parents who were laid off because of COVID-19 and are unable to make ends meet. Kids who struggled to adapt to online learning. Grandparents raising their grandchildren who were afraid to send them to school for fear of bringing home the virus. When I hear from communities of color, I hear about how long-standing inequities made the effects of the pandemic even more dire.

Every day for the past year, I’ve heard these stories, and I’ve taken them with me back to the other Washington to fight for all our state’s families and make sure no community gets left behind. After a year of Republicans saying “no” to the kind of bold relief families in Washington State have been demanding for months — and after voters in Washington State and across the country made their voices heard in November and January — Democrats have finally passed a bill that begins to acknowledge the scope and scale of the crisis Washington State families have been facing.

As one of the senators who helped write the American Rescue Plan, I made sure Washington State families were heard and that they will get direct, targeted relief. I was glad we could deliver direct payments, and while the $1,400 checks have received a lot of attention, there are other very significant pieces of this bill that will be just as important for families. One of those pieces is the expansion of the Child Tax Credit.

The existing Child Tax Credit provides up to $2,000 for every child under the age of 17 based on a family’s income. The American Rescue Plan takes ambitious steps to expand this credit for families making under $150,000, increasing the payment to $3,000 for every child under 18 and $3,600 for every child under 6. The bill also makes the tax credit fully refundable, making sure the families who need assistance the most will receive the full credit. In Washington State, this means struggling families with children will see help in the form of up to $300 a month more in your pocket.

The Child Tax Credit alone will cut child poverty for Black families by more than 50% and Native families by more than 60%. While only about half of Black and Latino children were eligible to receive the Child Tax Credit before the American Rescue Plan, now the vast majority will receive this vital assistance. The expansion of the Child Tax Credit, along with the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit in the bill, is projected to boost the income of eight million Black households, including approximately 54,000 Black households in Washington State.

Here’s an example of what the American Rescue Plan will mean for a Seattle family of four, with parents making $75,000 combined and with young children, ages 5 and 8: because of the American Rescue Plan, this family will get $5,600 in direct payments, $1,400 for each parent and child. And because of the expanded Child Tax Credit, they’ll also receive another $6,600, a portion of which will be advanced later this year, meaning families won’t have to wait until tax time next year to see that relief. That’s $12,200 more in the pockets of this young family to help them manage this crisis.

This relief, coupled with other policies, will help families weather this storm and come out the other side. The American Rescue Plan makes quality child care more affordable for families, helps schools reopen safely and quickly, and makes health care coverage more affordable — all while investing resources specifically in communities that have been hit hardest. We put billions toward distributing vaccines quickly and equitably in every community, supporting community health centers, and improving demographic data collection to inform an accurate, equitable response.

These are all critical steps — but they will not be the last we take. We’ve got to do everything we can to get back to “normal” when it comes to hugging our grandkids, sending our kids off to school safely, visiting family from out of town, and simply not worrying all the time about whether that cough was just dust or something more frightening.

But let’s also be clear that we can’t just go back to “normal” when normal wasn’t working in the first place. That means tackling the underlying inequities and systemic racism across our health care, education, and our economy as a whole, which made this crisis so much worse for Black, Latino, Tribal, and Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in our state.

I want you to know I firmly believe that we won’t recover as a country from this crisis until all of us recover — and I will continue working at the federal level to make sure everyone in Washington State gets the relief and resources they need, so that as a country, we can come back from this crisis more inclusive, equitable, and stronger than ever.

In 1992, Patty Murray became the first woman from Washington elected to the U.S. Senate. Senator Murray currently serves as the Chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pension and as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations, Veterans’ Affairs, and Budget committees. Senator Murray’s experiences as a preschool teacher, school board member, and state lawmaker have shaped her legislative interests in Congress and her advocacy for Washington State families.

Featured image by Susan Fried.

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