Updated: Mar 19
The “American Rescue Plan,” a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill signed by President Biden on March 11, will extend and expand nutrition assistance for children and families across North Carolina. The package is expected to extend the 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits through September 2021 (averaging a $27 increase in benefits per person each month) and continues the P-EBT program, which provides food assistance benefits to families during school closures to keep children fed. The package also includes improvements in service delivery and increased availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in the WIC nutrition program.
Most importantly, the American Rescue Plan contains a child benefit program that closely resembles Tony Blair’s revolutionary child poverty policy, enacted 22 years ago in Great Britain. At the center of Blair’s British program were government payments to families with children. In 1999, the child poverty rate in Great Britain was 25 percent. By 2007, eight years after his plan was enacted, the current British child poverty rate had fallen to less than 12 percent. Tony Blair and the Labour Party centered their campaign on government payments to families with children, similar to American social security program payments for its older population. Research shows that poverty has profound impacts on children, many lasting throughout their lifetime, including epigenetic changes that can persist into future generations. Children living in financially secure families are more likely to succeed in school, stay healthy, and to become economically self-sufficient as adults.
Most families will receive $3,600 per year, in monthly payments, for each child age 5 or under, and $3,000 per year for older children. Childhood poverty mitigation policy experts agree that the child benefit provision, included in the economic relief legislation, marks a revolutionary policy reform, and addresses a long-needed policy reform to impact the poverty rate for American children. Currently, child poverty rates in the U.S. are about 14 percent (North Carolina's rates are about 20 percent) and the proposed legislation would reduce those rates to 6 percent of children this year. Even larger declines will be noted for children in communities of color.
Ultimately, the biggest uncertainty about Biden’s child benefit program may not be its groundbreaking impact but its longevity. The bill recently signed into law by the president last week will establish the program for only one year. Supporters hope that its universal appeal will persuade Congress to make it a permanent program.
Elle Evans Peterson, MPH, CHES, is the Community Impact Manager – Social Determinants of Health at the North Carolina Community Action Association.