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Politics

Democrats Say Relief Programs Could Become This Generation's New Deal

NOEL KING, HOST:

The Biden administration is trying hard to get its $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill passed in the House by the end of this week. Republicans and some moderate Democrats say it's just too much money. But the Biden team says it wants to do something ambitious - prevent people from falling into poverty as the pandemic continues. Here's NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: President Biden promised voters last year that his first bill would be a massive pandemic aid package. This legislation, he said, would speed up vaccines and help reopen schools. It would also rush help to people who had lost jobs and slipped into dire economic circumstances.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We can not, will not, let people go hungry. We cannot let people be evicted because of nothing they did themselves.

SNELL: The bill, expected to pass the House this week, includes some major changes to programs typically known as the social safety net. On top of the small business loans and money for health care included in previous bills, the latest round of relief includes longtime Democratic priorities, including billions of dollars for food stamps, rent assistance, utility assistance and changes to the tax law that could translate to thousands of dollars for most people, including those living at or below the poverty line. Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Democrats of taking advantage of their new power in Washington to make good on a plan to turn pandemic relief into an extremely expensive liberal wish list.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: It was last March, remember, when a senior House Democrat called this disaster, quote, "a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision."

SNELL: Democrats don't exactly disagree. They say they ran and won on a promise to do exactly this. For Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, that means finally enacting what she calls a federal child allowance that would use the tax code to send families around $300 per child per month for most Americans. It's something she's been working on for 18 years.

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ROSA DELAURO: We are not going back to normal, but where do we go for the future? Where do we try to make enduring change?

SNELL: The idea is essentially an experiment in basic income for families. Payments are meant to start in July and go through the end of the year. DeLauro says the bill could help half of all children living in poverty.

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DELAURO: You look at the statistics. You're looking at Black children. Over 50% would be lifted out of poverty. Hispanic children - 40%; Native American children - 61.5%; Asian American Pacific Islander children - about 38%; white children - up to 40%.

SNELL: The bill would also expand a different tax credit aimed at low-income workers who don't have kids. Democrats say their goal is to do what Franklin Delano Roosevelt did with the New Deal, create a new network of social support programs that could become as widely accepted and widely used as Social Security. Many elements of the bill, aside from the $15 minimum wage, have widespread support among Democrats and are expected to become law, at least temporarily.

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RICHARD NEAL: I'm hell-bent on making these credits permanent.

SNELL: That's House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal.

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NEAL: What we're asking for here is an opportunity for people at the lower end of the economic scale, the people that we depend upon every single day in America, incidentally, to get a chance.

SNELL: He says these tax changes, like the child tax credit expansion, may be temporary now, but it will be exceedingly difficult for any politician to explain why they support ending relief that gets people and children in particular out of poverty. But that could be a big gamble for the people who may come to rely on these programs. Kelsey Snell, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.