This is a watershed moment for American families. As I write this, Congress is negotiating the details of a multi-trillion dollar social safety net known as the Build Back Better Act. Why does this matter? Because at the center of it all are potential investments in care and the outcome of these negotiations will affect millions of American families for years to come.
As big as this moment is, it’s easy to tune it all out. And I totally get why. The political brinkmanship. Jargon such as “reconciliation.” Plus, let’s face it, we all have so much on our plates already.
But here’s why you can’t afford to tune this out: Care is economic infrastructure. Every working parent knows, without care you can’t work, which means workers drop out. Look no further than these past 18 months – with schools and daycares closed, women, who often take on more caregiving responsibilities at home, left the workforce in the millions and at a higher rate than men. We’re facing a labor crisis no one expected and one of the key reasons is that parents can’t find childcare. But those families need income and employers need a workforce. This bill provides a long-overdue and historic investment in care that supports all bottom lines – whether you’re the average working parent, the little coffee shop on the corner, or a Fortune 500 company.
As CEO of Care.com, I’m deep in the weeds on this and know just how big a deal it is. But I’m also a father and as I talk with other parents, I’m keenly aware that they don’t realize what’s at stake here. There’s real financial relief possible for your family not just short-term but for years to come. This bill has the potential to literally invest in each of our families, in our children, and our caregivers. As I said, this is a watershed moment.
The proposed bill is big — right now, it’s 2,465-pages — so there’s no way I can go over it all. Here are 6 key provisions that will benefit you directly.
1. Permanently expanding the Child Tax Credit through 2025
In July, the parents of 59.3 million children received their first monthly payment from the expanded Child Tax Credit. You might be among them. Already, these payments have lifted millions of children out of poverty and are alleviating some of the financial hardships parents face as a result of the pandemic. But right now, they’re temporary.
Under the new proposed bill, you would keep getting these monthly payments through 2025. Let me repeat that: You’d keep getting these monthly checks.
If you’re a parent, that means that, depending on your income, you’ll keep receiving up to $300/month for every child under 6 (capped at $3,600 per year) and $250/month for every child age 6 through 17 (capped at $3,000 per year). The “old” Child Tax Credit was capped at $2,000 per child. Another bonus? These expanded payments are fully refundable, which means even parents with little or no income still qualify.
This puts money into your pocket consistently when you need it – that is, every month – rather than once a year when you file your taxes. And, you get the flexibility to spend the money on essential (and costly) monthly expenses like food, rent or mortgage, transportation, and health care.
Keep in mind, the amount of money you get each month varies based on your modified adjusted gross income and the number of kids you have. I found this Child Tax Credit Calculator to be a helpful and easy way to find out exactly how much money you qualify for.
2. Expand the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit to help offset the rising cost of care
Care is expensive. And I don’t have to tell you that the cost keeps rising. Childcare is one of the biggest line items on any household budget; most working families spend 10% or more of their annual household income on it.
The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit was created to help offset some of the costs of childcare. But in its current form, not everyone can take full advantage of it. The new bill proposes to dramatically raise the yearly cap on deductible childcare expenses for parents and caregivers – from $3,000 to $8,000, if you have one qualifying child or dependent; and from $6,000 to $16,000, if you have two or more. The tax credit is fully refundable, regardless of your income.
This means the majority of you would likely spend no more than 7% of your income on childcare and in most states, families would save more than $100 per week — or about $5,000 to $6,500 a year — on childcare costs, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress.
3. Provide a family caregiver tax credit to care for elderly or disabled family
If you’re one of the 48 million Americans caring for an elderly, disabled, or ill family member or loved one, then you know the financial hardship that comes with it, among other challenges. Even if you’re not currently a caregiver, you likely will be at some point. By 2060, there will be nearly 95 million U.S. adults over the age of 65 – nearly double the number compared to 2018. Caregiving will become a larger part of all our lives.
The proposed bill offers financial relief. If you provide care for someone who qualifies for long-term care certified under Medicare or Medicaid, you will be eligible to receive an annual tax credit for caregiving expenses through 2025. The amount of this credit is equal to 50% of the qualified expenses you pay as a caregiver up to $4,000, and it decreases by one percentage point for every $2,500 by which your adjusted gross income exceeds $75,000.
4. Universal paid family and medical leave for all American workers
Did you know that the US is one of only two developed nations in the entire world without a national family leave policy? Think about that.
This bill finally makes paid family and medical leave the law of the land for every working American. You will be guaranteed up to 12 weeks of paid leave to welcome the birth or adoption of a new child, to care for a family member, or to care for yourself if you get really sick. You’d also receive three paid days for bereavement and up to 26 weeks of paid leave for military caregiving purposes. During your leave, you’d be able to receive at least two-thirds of your salary (or up to $4,000 a month) covered by federal payments.
The benefits of national paid leave for parents, children, employers, and the economic stability of the nation are well-proven. It means that more new mothers could take the time they need to recover from childbirth and bond with their baby, assured that their job and income are secure. More fathers could be involved in care. And newborns and adopted children would get the benefits of critical bonding time with their parents, which studies have shown leads to healthier growth and development outcomes that extend well into adulthood.
5. Living wages and benefits for caregivers
The care we need requires a strong and stable caregiving workforce. But for far too long, care workers in this country – the majority of whom are women of color – have been underpaid and undervalued. In 2020, the median pay for a childcare worker was just $25,460 a year, according to the U.S. Labor Department. That’s not a living wage. In fact, it’s below the poverty line for a family of four ($26,500).
The proposed plan would invest nearly $80 billion in workforce development programs, including those that upgrade childcare facilities, fund strategies to recruit and retain care workers and increase their wages. It would also fund new training opportunities aimed at addressing our nation’s shortage of care workers.
In my role at Care.com, I talk to caregivers all the time. And the one thing I consistently hear from them is that they love what they do and they find purpose in caring for others. But too many of them can’t afford to stay in these jobs because they can’t support their own families. They need, want (and deserve!) to be paid a fair, living wage for the incredible – and incredibly important – work they do.
6. Universal Pre-K for every 3- and 4-year-old child
As a father raising twin boys who just completed kindergarten, I’ve seen firsthand how important preschool was to their social and emotional development. Every child in this country should have that same opportunity. We will never be an equitable society if our children’s development is solely determined by how much money their parents make and what they can or can’t afford when it comes to early childhood education and care.
The new bill offers free, high-quality, accessible, and inclusive pre-K to every 3- and 4-year-old in America. Nearly 5 million children would now have the same opportunity that my sons had (and perhaps yours, too), and it will save the average family $13,000.
Universal pre-K reduces the financial burden on working parents who are struggling to afford care for kids under 5, and it helps prepare every child for kindergarten and beyond. A new study by researchers from the University of Chicago, MIT, and UC Berkeley found that kids who attend universal pre-K are more likely to graduate high school and attend college.
This moment is historic, and it demands you take action now. Congress hasn’t voted…yet. So, if any of this resonates with you, it’s not too late to make your voice heard and show your support. Get in touch with your Representatives and Senators and tell them to get it done. Because care can’t wait.