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Dear Congress: It's time to pass historic investments

Sep 21, 2021, 10:47 AM by Laura Mortenson
If Congress makes the right choices, recovery legislation could lead to historic reductions in economic and racial inequality in Minnesota and across the country.

Our nation faces a historic, once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a stronger, more equitable economy and address the continued hardship and barriers faced by millions of people and their families across the country. 

President Joe Biden has put together his proposed Build Back Better plan, taking lessons from the pandemic, as well as long-standing lack of investments that leave Americans and their families without an adequate system of supports when crisis or hard times hit, and that perpetuate this country’s deep disparities by income and race. 

Right now, Congress is building on this framework to craft more detailed legislation that could be passed later this year. Contact your members of Congress today, and urge them to keep working to deliver the transformative investments that Minnesotans need and deserve. 

Much is at stake. 

It will be a missed opportunity for the people of Minnesota — especially people and families struggling to make ends meet — if Congress does not include the following high-impact investments in a stronger, more equitable future:

  • A permanent extension of the expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC). Prior COVID recovery legislation made the Child Tax Credit larger and available to more families and children, including some of the lowest-income families who were previously excluded. It also implemented an innovative approach of providing these additional resources to families on a monthly basis. Continuing these improvements and making sure all lower-income families can qualify should be an essential part of Build Back Better legislation. In Minnesota, 322,000 children previously left out of the full CTC would benefit from a permanent expansion, including 74,000 Black children, 57,000 Latinx children, and 23,000 Asian children.
  • A permanent Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) expansion for adults not raising children. This is the only group of poor Americans who became poorer through the federal tax code before the American Rescue Plan took effect. The credit is far too low, and younger and older low-paid workers are shut out of this important work support. COVID relief legislation enacted long-overdue improvements to increase the size of the credit, reach more lower-income workers, and end arbitrary age restrictions. These policies should be made permanent. Some 276,300 workers in Minnesota would benefit each year from a permanent EITC expansion, including 23,100 Black workers, 17,900 Latinx workers, and 11,700 Asian workers.
  • A multi-year, guaranteed investment to substantially expand affordable housing including vouchers, to help people across the country to keep a roof over their heads. In Minnesota, 3 out of 5 low-income households pay too much for rent and do not receive a voucher or other federal rental assistance due to limited funding. Minnesota residents wait an average of 22 months after requesting a voucher, exposing them to homelessness, overcrowding, eviction, and other hardships. The pandemic has exacerbated these problems, and temporary measures like the eviction moratorium and emergency assistance do not address the underlying affordability challenges. Additional investment in affordable housing development is needed as well to address our state’s severe shortage of units.
  • Permanent unemployment insurance (UI) reform that sets basic federal standards for coverage, benefit adequacy, and benefit duration. Congress had to step in during the pandemic with substantial pandemic UI assistance because the underlying system was so weak. Our nation’s UI system kept 5.5 million workers out of poverty in 2020, thanks in part to temporary improvements to increase benefit levels, extend the number of weeks of assistance, and reach workers normally left out. But those improvements have expired, and millions of unemployed workers will not receive UI benefits, or will receive a meager benefit for a limited duration, if new reforms are not enacted.
  • Closing the Medicaid coverage gap. While Minnesota has already taken action to ensure our neighbors have affordable health care, it is unacceptable to allow states to continue to deny health care to their residents despite substantial federal fiscal incentives.
  • Summer grocery benefits and expanded access to free school meals. To prevent the usual summertime spike in child hunger, expanded food security assistance would provide grocery benefits nationwide every summer to fill the gap left by school meals. During the school year, this plan would combat hunger by expanding community eligibility and direct certification for school meals.
  • Expanded investment in affordable child care and the creation of a paid leave system, so that no worker in Minnesota has to worry about whether they can hold down a job and still take care of their family.
  • Subsidized jobs, which are a proven way to help people who struggle to enter the labor market even when the economy is strong, due to barriers such as hiring discrimination, limited formal education, or a criminal record. Recovery funds dedicated to workforce development should incorporate at least $4 billion for subsidized jobs.

Finally, Congress should make sure that wealthy households and corporations contribute more to help fund these investments and bring greater equity to our tax code. Two key ways to advance this goal are to strengthen IRS resources to close the tax gap and to enact revenue-raising policies focused on those with the greatest resources of income and wealth. A recent ProPublica story made clear that the very rich pay little or no income taxes, while ordinary Americans have taxes withheld from their paychecks every two weeks. This gross inequity has to end.

Recent data from the U.S. Census demonstrates the powerful impact that COVID relief legislation had on promoting Americans’ health and economic well-being even in the face of a historic pandemic. But the harmful effects of the pandemic and recession aren’t over yet, and many of those powerful policy actions were temporary. We need to build on that progress, not go back to an unacceptable status quo.

If Congress makes the right choices, recovery legislation could lead to historic reductions in economic and racial inequality in Minnesota and across the country. Our wealthy nation can afford to make these investments — and cannot afford not to.