One year into pandemic, CLASP policy solutions are mitigating the damage

By Hannah Matthews

One year ago, COVID-19 changed life nationwide—and globally—bringing into focus the enormous depth of cracks in our public systems. Individuals and families confronted illness, death, hunger, poverty, job loss, mental anguish, and a caregiving crisis. These burdens most hurt Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous and other people of color, as well as people with low incomes. Moreover, deeply rooted, systemic racial injustice exposed profound inequities for communities of color and immigrants. 

To respond to the crisis, CLASP shifted into high gear—recognizing that our mission to root out poverty and advance racial equity were well matched to this moment. A year later, we celebrate passage of the American Rescue Plan (ARP). A new political landscape and a year of sustained advocacy has resulted in a relief bill that responds to the scale of the crisis. It also marks a fundamental shift in public policy—centering children, people with low incomes and racial justice in key elements of the legislation. Even as policymakers must do more to overcome historic inequities and poverty, we look back at some of the ground we’ve covered with gratitude for partners in the work:
Fighting to save child care. Early in the pandemic, families confronted the severe strain of a historically underfunded child care system. When child care programs closed, it hurt working parents, falling hardest on mothers of color. It harmed child care workers—nearly all women and disproportionately women of color. CLASP and our coalition partners quickly urged Congress to invest $9.6 billion per month, or at least $50 billion, to save this vital industry. We worked with state policymakers to restructure policies and provided analysis and testimony for federal policymakers. The ARP provides $39 billion to shore up the child care sector, bringing the total federal investment in the child care sector, since the pandemic began, to $50 billion. This will provide crucial relief to providers, help many parents return to work, and lay the groundwork for transformative change for the sector.

Advancing paid leave. As COVID-19 cases surged, our country’s shameful lack of national paid leave policies came into the spotlight. Low-paid frontline workers lacked protection to care for themselves or family members without risking their jobs. Days before nationwide shutdowns, former CLASP expert Tanya Goldman testified before Congress on the need to provide paid sick days for the 32 million workers nationwide currently denied this protection. It was a win for workers—and public health—when lawmakers authorized emergency paid sick days and paid family and medical leave in the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act. CLASP worked in coalition to help local partners understand the policy so workers could use it.

The emergency paid leave provisions marked the first time Congress affirmed paid leave for private sector employees. Yet, despite the importance of paid leave for individuals, families, and the economy, the leave was only temporary, and millions of workers today remain without a guarantee of paid leave. We will continue advocating for permanent paid leave for all. Only a permanent program, like the FAMILY Act, can ensure families’ health and economic security to face the next crisis. 

Shoring up incomes and reducing poverty. Millions of workers have been laid off or suffered loss of income. In the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, policymakers advanced relief with stimulus checks—but not for everyone in need. In addition to helping partners understand this assistance, CLASP spoke up for the 5.1 million children of undocumented immigrants who were denied the first round of COVID aid. We continued this advocacy and achieved a partial win as more immigrant families were included in the second round, even as 2.2 million children remained excluded. The American Rescue Plan now will close this gap, although 9.3 million undocumented immigrants—many who are essential workers—are still denied assistance. 

CLASP also fought to expand the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to reach the one in three children denied full benefits—disproportionately including Black and Latinx children. In a dramatic policy shift, the ARP temporarily expands the CTC to provide families a guaranteed minimum monthly income for the first time. This provision will cut child poverty in half, helping 23 million children who currently miss out on the benefit and lifting 4 million children out of poverty entirely. It must be made permanent. Further, a permanent expansion of the CTC must include all children, including immigrant children who were denied the credit by the 2017 tax bill. 

Combatting hunger. As the recession deepened, CLASP continued learning from advocates on the ground about communities’ most urgent needs. Among solutions to combat hunger, CLASP urged state and federal policymakers to increase nutrition assistance (SNAP) and extend emergency food aid for children. We urged lawmakers to expand access to SNAP for students in postsecondary education and worked to ensure that immigrant families, among others, could access nutrition benefits.

Protecting immigrant families. Just as COVID-19 was reaching the United States, the Trump Administration implemented its harsh public charge policies. They frightened immigrant families from accessing critically needed health care, nutrition, housing, and other benefits, even as the pandemic spread and the economy seized up. CLASP and our partners fought back against the rule and worked to educate communities on the benefits they could safely receive. Last week, the Biden-Harris Administration administration stopped defending these Trump-era policies, rendering them invalidated by earlier court rulings. 

Prioritizing youth. Prior to the pandemic, the picture of youth and young adults was already cause for great concern. Over 1 million young people needed mental health care but couldn’t access it. CLASP’s analysis and convenings with young leaders surfaced grave economic injustice, most severe for young adults of color. COVID worsened these gaps and related racial disparities. Despite some pandemic relief, like pausing student loan payments—an economic support that should become permanent—gains for young people during this year have fallen short. The ARP expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit to include—for the first time—workers under age 25 without children or whose children do not live with them. That’s a positive step, but there is far more to do. 

Through CLASP’s recently launched New Deal for Youth, we are working with young adults, centering their experiences and expertise, in order to achieve policy and community solutions to help young people thrive. We’re eager to continue working with lawmakers to invest in youth. As we pursue an equitable economic recovery, we need a large-scale, permanent subsidized jobs program for youth, prioritizing Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) youth and young adults. 

The American Rescue Plan is a powerful antidote to a cruel and destructive year. Yet even after this package takes effect, our nation still has so much to do. Policymakers must shift from rescuing people drowning in the pandemic to building an equitable, sustainable recovery. We will continue the fight to advance and enact solutions that can end racial and economic inequities in our health care and child care systems; provide adequate aid so no one goes hungry; and ensure economic security for every student and worker. Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration must invest in resources that communities needed before COVID-19 and that can help secure a more just, stable future for us all.