Nearly 60 years after President Lyndon Baines Johnson declared an unconditional War on Poverty, the American Rescue Plan Act is the single biggest legislative initiative to intentionally focus on aiding low-wealth families struggling to make ends meet in North Carolina and across the nation.
President Johnson’s efforts were laser focused, creating community-based entities called community action agencies to administer a wide array of programs and services aimed at poverty reduction through coordinated service delivery.
The War on Poverty was an audacious move in the ‘60s. The initiative was built on the following legislative pieces—the Social Security Amendments of 1965—that created Medicare and Medicaid and increased Social Security benefits to the disabled, college students, widows, and retirees.
The Food Stamp Act of 1964 transitioned the food stamp program from a pilot to a permanent program.
The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 established programs including VISTA, Job Corps, federal work-study, and the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) which led the War on Poverty initiative.
While the efforts were successful, unfortunately, the Vietnam War surfaced, and President Johnson needed to turn his sights and the nation’s resources to ending the war.
Since that time, administration after administration has campaigned to help the working class; however, little has been done to level the playing field between the “haves and have-nots.” The American Rescue Plan Act is the boldest sweeping move to address the needs of families living in and on the edge of poverty since Johnson’s courageous vision.
As North Carolinians struggle to rebound from lost wages, unemployment, home-schooling, social isolation, mental health and more caused by a global pandemic that has cost more than a half-million Americans their lives, this daring shift will change the trajectory of the lives of tens of thousands of poor children across the Tarheel state and millions across the country.
This economic stimulus provides a one-year child tax credit that gives families a credit of $3,600 for each child under the age of six and $3,000 per child up to age 18. While the credit is not yet a permanent fix, we are hopeful its impact on the lives and well-being of future generations and the economy overall fosters the permanency needed with congressional legislation.
It is proposed that the Internal Revenue Service will provide monthly payments to families possibly up to half of the allocated tax credit, with the remainder provided as a tax refund.
This unprecedented endeavor puts critically needed income into the hands of workers who lost jobs due to the pandemic for rental/mortgage supports, utilities, nutrition, technology, personal protective equipment, childcare and more.
Coupled with a $1,400 direct payment to income-eligible individuals, this rescue package is the light at the end of a long tunnel for low-income North Carolinians struggling through a global pandemic that has crippled the economic landscape of the world.
On March 11, 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act, enacting one of the largest economic relief programs in U.S. history. The bill is a broad, comprehensive policy response to the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sharon C. Goodson is the executive director of the North Carolina Community Action Association