What the Build Back Better Act Means for Black America
And why should WE care?
By Kristin McGuire, Executive Director
President Biden recently unveiled his framework for the Build Back Better Act. It seems like in an instant, everyone on my timeline became an expert on all that is wrong with the proposed plan. One thing we aren’t discussing is what this actually means for Black America.
The truth is, the BBB Act is a huge piece of legislation. Those of us who have been following along for a while had high hopes- free community college, double pell grant. As negotiations happened, we were slowly let down. However, there are some bright spots. This plan includes a historic investment in the services Black communities rely on the most, like child care, paid leave, and universal pre-K. It also makes major investments in combating climate change and creating good-paying union jobs.
Health Care: The Act extends the expanded health insurance premium assistance for several more years. This means that if you get your individual insurance via the ACA (Obamacare), your premiums remain low for now. It also creates a way for people who live in states that have refused to expand Medicaid (many of which are in the South), to get access to the coverage they couldn’t previously afford. This expansion will be huge for us since diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure can be prevented or managed with access to proper care. The Act also includes a significant investment in maternal health, which is much needed to improve the birth outcomes of Black mothers. Now, will this fix our troubled relationship with the health care system? Nope. But I do believe that having access to critical preventive care will be a lifesaver.
Dependent Care: The Covid pandemic exposed the barriers that we have faced trying to care for our loved ones. The extended Child Tax Credit, now paid monthly, will put money in parents’ pockets for another year. There will also be new child care assistance and universal pre-K programs that will give our kids a jumpstart on their educational careers. Paid Family Leave was ultimately included in the House version of the Build Back Better Act. It is up to the US Senate to maintain the much-needed paid leave in the current bill. If removed, we will remain in the very small, terrible club of countries without paid maternity leave.
For those of us who are in the stage of life where we’re caring for our parents along with our children, there is a $150 billion investment to reduce waiting lists for older and disabled people who need in-home care.
Higher Education: Investments in HBCUs, Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) will help to reverse decades of underinvestment in these critical sectors of higher education. The maximum Pell award will be increased by $550 and Pell grant eligibility has been expanded to DACA recipients and those with temporary protected status. Knowing that Black students are more likely than their white classmates to have to leave school before graduating, there will also be funding to help support retention and completion programs.
BUT, there isn’t enough support to help more students afford college and deal with student debt. That’s what we really needed, especially since Black women carry the bulk of the student debt load in America. Free community college, which could have been a lifeline for Black students, was completely cut. Student debt cancellation could’ve been transformative for Black borrowers, struggling with repayment, but it was nowhere to be found. This is where our Congress could do better. This is what would have made the BBB great.
Finance: Most often, people just want to know how legislation impacts their finances. I think we can all agree that the cost of housing has gotten out of control. In fact, a third of Black Americans pay over half their income on rent and that’s far too much. The BBB will make the most comprehensive investment in affordable housing that our nation has ever seen, creating and rehabilitating one-million affordable homes. This means there will be more people in housing that they can afford. Plus, in an effort to protect our environment, the BBB plan will offer a credit of $12,500 to those who purchase an electric vehicle. The Act will permanently extend the increase to the Earned-Income Tax Credit from $543 to $1,502. Last but not least, President Biden says this plan is paid for and no family “making under $400,000 will pay a penny more in taxes.”
All in all, I think we should be cautiously optimistic about the Build Back Better Act. We should also be real with ourselves: this plan is good but not good enough. More needs to be done. We know one bill will never fix all the problems in this country, so we need to make sure we continue to show up.