Year-End Congressional Priorities to Advance Economic Equity, Opportunity
By Dash Lewis
Despite a new legislative agenda when the 118th Congress is sworn in on January 3, 2023, there’s still time for the current Congress to act on a range of issues important to economic equity and opportunity. As the political dynamic shifts, the remaining few weeks of intensive legislative work are likely to draw a lot of attention from policy advocates. CLASP will be monitoring the Hill closely as we focus on advancing the following advocacy and policy agenda that supports the wellbeing and living standards of those with the lowest incomes and communities of color
CTC and EITC Expansion
2021’s expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) dramatically reduced child poverty last year and provided urgent support to families under acute economic distress. Likewise, the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in 2021 opened up that program to more young workers. The fully refundable CTC especially helped Black and Latinx families, who are disproportionately more likely to receive a reduced CTC—or no credit at all. This disparity is a result of high poverty rates caused by the nation’s long history of discriminatory policy in housing, health care, and education. A CLASP national survey found that parents used the monthly CTC payments in 2021 on necessities like bills, food, rent, and clothing. The expiration of the credit has placed unneeded stress back on families still dealing with severe economic turbulence. It’s imperative that Congress includes the CTC and EITC expansion in the upcoming year-end tax package and not cut taxes for businesses without helping families and workers as well.
Debt Limit Elevation
Unless Congress takes action prior to the end of the calendar year, the United States will reach its debt limit next year. Congress should raise the limit now and not leave the threat of debt default as a bargaining chip, which could be used to leverage cuts to critical programs. Failure to raise the limit would jeopardize the economic wellbeing of people who have been marginalized.
Providing a Path to Citizenship
Congress has repeatedly failed to provide a path to citizenship for undocumented youth who call this country home. With the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program facing its imminent end, more than 600,000 DACA recipients are at risk of losing their work permits and lawful status, putting them and their families in harm’s way. Thousands of young immigrants who are unable to apply for DACA also remain without any option for relief. It is imperative that Congress include a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and other undocumented youth in any year-end omnibus budget package.
Investments in Child Care and Early Education
While the media has given much attention lately to the high costs of goods like fuel and food, families have struggled for decades with unaffordable child care. Inflationary increases have made child care even more expensive. As is often the case, existing inequity means families of color, women, and single parents are hit hardest.
Federal investment in affordable and accessible child care would go a long way to helping families who struggle with the cost and to addressing the needs of child care workers who are often paid poverty-level wages with little-to-no benefits. Child care investments in the omnibus budget that are as high as possible will help to address these ongoing challenges.
Mental Health Support for Young People
Young people are experiencing a mental health crisis, with national organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recognizing the severity of the crisis. The bipartisan mental health package currently under negotiation in the Senate must incorporate the youth mental health and telehealth provisions not included in the Safer Communities Act, along with the sections that address workforce, parity, and care integration.
Congress must also work to pass the Momnibus, which is a collection of policies that would address the Black maternal mortality crisis by providing key investments for social determinants of health including mental health support. In a country with ample wealth and resources, such racial gaps in health outcomes are unacceptable.
Dignity for Workers
Congress could enact several important measures before the end of this legislative session to improve worker conditions.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is critical legislation that would prevent pregnant workers from being forced out of their jobs and denied accommodations allowing them to continue to work. This would ensure pregnant workers can maintain their incomes and have a healthy pregnancy.
Increased funding for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) would ensure there’s proper oversight and enforcement for instances of labor rights violations. Union elections petitions have increased by 57 percent in 2022, yet the NLRB’s funding has remained flat since 2014. The NLRB desperately needs increased funding to properly hold and monitor union elections, investigate and judge violations of labor law, and protect and enforce workers’ right to organize. Congress should increase annual funding to the NLRB by a significant amount so workers organizing to improve their workplaces can exercise their rights free from fear, intimidation, and harmful delays.
Avert Medicaid Fiscal Cliff for Territories
Federal Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico and other territories is structured as a block grant, resulting in persistent underfunding of the program. In recent years Congress has provided temporary increases in Medicaid funding to territories, allowing them to make modest program improvements, such as slight eligibility increases or added benefits. However, Medicaid programs in the territories still have more restrictive eligibility and benefits than most state Medicaid programs. The current temporary increase in federal Medicaid dollars for territories ends December 16, 2022. At a minimum, Congress should extend the increase in federal Medicaid dollars for territories to avoid drastic Medicaid cuts. And to avert territory Medicaid funding crises in the long term, Congress should eliminate the block grant structure for territories and make federal funding for territory Medicaid programs equitable to state Medicaid funding formulas.
We Can’t Ignore the Need for Action
These policies are concrete and achievable steps that would improve the lives of different marginalized groups. As we continue to live in a world impacted heavily by global economic shocks, we must make proactive investments to help people deal with their daily costs and pressures. CLASP urges Congress to make the remaining time in the session meaningful and pass these measures.