House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal has introduced a massive social programs infrastructure package aimed at making enhancements to the child tax credit permanent, expanding paid family leave and boosting access to child care for Americans.
The “Building the Economy for Families Act” comes as the Biden administration is expected to unveil its own American Families Plan and just a day ahead of President Joe Biden’s inaugural address to Congress.
The plan guarantees paid leaves to full-time and part-time workers and permanently expands the child tax credit, which offers families up to $3,600 annually per child in monthly payments. Neal’s plan is an ambitious marker as Democrats on Capitol Hill begin turning Biden’s plans into legislation.
“We must finally acknowledge that workers have families, and caregiving responsibilities are real. Through sensible, but bold investments, we can put workers’ minds at ease and ready our country to come roaring back,” Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in a statement. “All while lifting millions out of poverty by permanently extending the hugely popular expansions the Ways and Means Committee made to key tax credits in the American Rescue Plan.”
The plan differs in some ways from Biden’s American Families Plan in that it permanently extends the child tax credit enhancement, while Biden’s plan is expected to extend it just through 2025. The Democrats’ $1.9 trillion rescue plan boosted the credit only for 2021.
Neal’s plan would provide up to 12 weeks of universal paid medical and family leave for full- and part-time workers, including those who are self-employed. Americans would be eligible if they met the same criteria necessary under the Family and Medical Leave Act to take 60 days a year in paid leave, but the leave could not be more than 20 days a month. For a typical worker, the paid leave benefit would replace about two-thirds of wages.
Notably, the program would be run through the Department of Treasury, not the Social Security Administration. Under the Senate’s budget rules, a bill that goes through reconciliation cannot affect Social Security. The change does not necessarily indicate that Democrats will use that arcane budget process to pass their infrastructure bill, but the revision could make it easier to approve the expansion of paid leave using reconciliation, which would allow them to pass the measure without Republican support.
On the child care side, the bill would create a portal where parents could go to learn more about which providers have slots for new enrollees. The legislation makes a $15 billion investment over the next five years to improve the physical spaces of child care facilities.
And it makes permanent the enhancements to the child and dependent care tax credit in the Democrats’ rescue package, which increased the amount of expenses eligible for the credit and raised the income thresholds so many more families will qualify for the maximum credit in 2021.
Neal’s measure also creates a new refundable payroll tax credit, of up to $5,000 per year, for wages paid by certain child care providers. It’s aimed at raising caretakers’ wages — a priority of congressional Democrats and Biden.
The bill makes permanent the Covid relief bill’s expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit for workers without children, nearly tripling the maximum credit and extending eligibility to more people for one year.
However, this bill does not continue the enhancements to Affordable Care Act premium subsidies that his committee included in the coronavirus rescue package. Some Democrats have been pushing to make the augmented subsidies permanent in the families plan.