Kathleen Stoll: Pay attention to 'Build Back Better'
I wanna shout “Hey, pay attention!”
Why? If you care about helping working families struggling to raise their kids and make ends meet, something exciting is brewing. And most folks are clueless.
I was talking to a buddy of mine the other day. He was telling me that it simply makes no economic sense for his girlfriend to go to work.
Without any college education, she won’t make much more than minimum wage. It will cost gas to get to work. And the big cost kicker: paying for day care for her 3-year-old. As he talked through the numbers, I had to agree. She would end up working to bring home about $30 dollars a week to add to their family budget. And if her daughter got sick, she’d have to take unpaid time off or maybe even lose her job.
If she worked full-time, she could lose her Medicaid coverage. If she found a job paying more than about $600 a week, she puts her Medicaid income eligibility at risk. The Medicaid income eligibility level for her and the baby is $23,792 in annual income.
Even with the struggle to make ends meet, my buddy is thinking about cutting back his hours — because he makes too much to qualify for Medicaid and doesn’t have the extra $200-plus a month to pay for a decent health plan on healthinsurance.gov.
His girlfriend is eligible for the temporary $300/month child tax credit that was passed as part of the COVID-19 emergency relief legislation, the American Rescue Plan. I give you one guess — the first two don’t count — on how it will be spent. Right — finally catching up on those credit card bills.
This conversation is not unique. Working West Virginia families are struggling.
So what would help this family? The list would include: more affordable health insurance and lower prescription drug costs for him, help with the cost of child care, a chance to attend college for free for her, paid family and medical leave, and the continuation of the enhanced child tax credit.
That all sounds great to my buddy.
I then asked if he knew about the Build Back Better proposal that Congress is working on right now, that could provide all of this real, concrete help to his family. Congress is starting to iron out details and making critical decisions about how much, for how long and who really needs help.
My buddy quickly told me that as far as he is concerned, nothing going on in Washington has anything to do with a regular guy like him. It is all about which rich guys will get what and when. (Not a totally crazy evaluation — thinking of the 2017 huge tax break for rich folks and big corporations.)
Now that a significant investment in working families is on the table in Congress, a lot of folks are just not paying attention.
Recent polling (reported this week in Politico) confirms what seems obvious to me as I talk to my family, friends and neighbors. Unless you are a policy wonk (I plead guilty as charged), you may be hearing more about the procedural process — budget recon something-or-other — than about the actual proposed programs.
But the debate in Congress is not really about process. It is about programs that will help struggling families and make work worthwhile.
I recommend we forget the process and crazy titles (The Concurrent Resolution on the Budget and Budget Deficit Reconciliation Spending Package for Fiscal Year 2022) and remember what is truly at stake in the debate:
Lower premiums for families buying health insurance at healthcare.gov.
Medicare prescription drug price negotiation to lower drug costs for Medicare enrollees and all Americans n Paid family and medical leave.
A continuation of the child tax credit. n Tuition-free community college. Universal pre-K and expanded childcare assistance. n New food and housing help.
Will all this become real for my buddy’s family and millions of other hard-working families? Yes — if we all do more shouting. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and all of our West Virginia Congressional Delegation need to hear loud and clear that West Virginia working folks desperately need these programs.
Kathleen Stoll serves as the Policy Director for West Virginians for Affordable Health Care (wvahc.org) and operates a policy and economic consulting business, Kat Consulting.