Just a few weeks after the House of Representatives passed a $1.75 trillion plan for social policy and climate change by a vote of 220-213, President Joe Biden is urging the Senate to pass the historic piece of legislation. Biden’s Build Back Better bill is considered by Democrats as one of the nation’s largest investments in working-class people and aims to address some of the major systemic inequities that prevent marginalized people from achieving health and success.
“We have a Build Back Better Bill that is historic, transformative, and larger than anything we have ever done before,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said before the vote. “We are building back better. If you are a parent, senior, child, worker, American—this bill is for you.”
But despite being touted as a bill where there’s something for everybody, members of underserved communities are divided on its effectiveness and whether it’s inclusive enough—and some Democrats are working against the clock to include new provisions before the new year.
Immigration, for example, is one of the highly debated topics in this bill. As it stands, the legislation would expand the Department of Homeland Security secretary’s authority to grant a temporary parole to undocumented immigrants who have lived in the country for a decade, providing them with work permits and shielding them from deportation. This could help up to 8 million people, but it does not create a new pathway to citizenship. Democrats are currently making a last-ditch attempt before the new year to include provisions that would overhaul some of the country’s immigration laws.
Susan Rice, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African American affairs, said the bill also underlines a number of benefits for Black Americans, especially when it comes to child care, education, and affordable housing.
“It’s the most transformative investment in children and caregiving in generations,” Rice said during a press call.
However, Camille Busette, senior fellow and director of the race, prosperity and inclusion initiative at the Brookings Institution, said the Build Back Better bill does not do enough to bridge inequalities. She pointed out that the bill includes nearly every community, except for those who are incarcerated.
“Black men have been disproportionately incarcerated both before and during the highly problematic War on Drugs,” she said in a statement. “Many of these men are young and are the products of the challenges that the Build Back Better framework seeks to ameliorate. While it’s important to be forward looking in policy, we also need to create a path to economic and physical well-being for our returning citizens.”
Though the bill does leave out incarcerated people, it does aim to address many of the issues facing underrepresented communities, such as paid family and medical leave, free universal pre-K, health care, and more.
The Build Back Better Bill that passed in the House has several provisions that are aimed at benefiting Black, brown, and low-income people. Here’s what’s included:
Four weeks of paid leave
This section of the bill was among the most popular and caused some of the biggest pushback from House Republicans. The U.S. currently does not require employers to offer paid family leave. Only 23% of American civil workers have access to paid family leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Build Back Better Bill calls for the establishment of a $200 billion national leave program, granting all workers, including those who are self-employed, four weeks of paid family and medical leave. This time can be used for caregiving or for personal illness.
Starting in 2024, workers who request paid leave can receive a percentage of their income starting at about 90%, scaling down for higher earners.
Free universal pre-K
Black parents are almost two times more likely than white parents to have to quit, turn down, or make a major change in their job due to child care disruptions. Only 52.8% of Black 3- and 4-year-old children are enrolled in preschool.
The average annual cost of preschool for those without access to publicly funded programs is $8,600. A typical, median-income Black family with two young children have to spend 56% of its income on child care.
With the bill, Democrats seek to ease the financial burden off of low-income parents by directing $200 billion to providing free universal preschool to all children 3-to-4 years in age. It would be the largest expansion in education programs since the creation of public high school, according to the White House.
With this measure, families that earn less than $300,000 annually will pay no more than 7% of their income on child care for kids ages six and under.
Expansion on health care
The Build Back Better Bill proposes a $165 expansion on health care spending, the biggest expansion of affordable health care in a decade, according to the White House.
The bill reduces health care premiums under the Affordable Care Act and expands Medicare coverage to include hearing benefits. Premiums for those who buy insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace will be around $600 less per person each year.
It also allows uninsured people whose states have locked them out of Medicaid to receive health care coverage without paying a monthly premium. According to House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, 60% of the 2.2 million Americans who would benefit from such an expansion are people of color.
This measure also restricts how much drugmakers can increase their prices each year and sets an annual limit on out-of-pocket spending on drugs that have been on the market for at least a decade.
Child tax credit
The bill allocates $200 billion to a one-year extension of the pandemic-era child tax credit, which provides parents with $300 every month per child under age 6 and $250 every month per child ages 6 to 17. Families that do not earn enough money to qualify for income tax liability will be eligible to continue receiving the full child tax credit beyond the one-year period.
This measure is estimated to reduce child poverty by more than 40%, with the sharpest reductions in the poverty rates for Black and Latino children.
The bill increases spending on affordable housing by $150 billion. The money will go toward building more than 1 million new rental and single-family homes. The bill will also provide rental and down payment assistance through an expanded voucher program.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, about 70% of all extremely low-income families pay more than half their income on rent, and over 580,000 Americans currently experience houselessness.
This version of the Build Back Better bill will be paid through a mix of taxes on wealthy Americans and businesses, including a 5% surtax on individuals making more than $10 million, a new corporate minimum tax of 15% and a 1% tax on stock buybacks, among others.
The legislation in the bill, such as the immigration parole and the child tax credit, may change during Senate negotiations. It will require the support of all 50 Democrats in order to become law.