Credit: Contributed

Dear Member of Congress:

The Community Service Society, one of New York’s and the nation’s leading nonprofit organizations dedicated to economic equity and equality, is writing to urge you and your fellow Democrats to ensure that the forthcoming agreement on the “Build Back Better” economic recovery legislation extends the expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) and retains the U.S. House of Representatives’ funding proposal for affordable and public housing investments. 

Additionally, we urge you to continue to make other meaningful investments that provide a pathway to economic security for vulnerable families that go beyond the recovery package and help bolster the Affordable Care Act and assist individuals struggling with student loan debt as the debate on cancellation and loan forgiveness continues. 

Permanently expanding the CTC is vitally important in lifting children out of poverty and providing greater equity in the tax code to children living in very low-income households. Prior to the American Rescue Act, 27 million children – roughly half of Black, Latino, and rural children – were excluded from receiving the full CTC because their families’ incomes were too low. 

The American Rescue Act put into law that children in low-income families, including those without earnings, should get the same CTC as children in families with higher incomes. This important and long-overdue change is projected to reduce child poverty by 40 percent, with the highest reductions in the poverty rates of Black and Latino children. Additionally, extending the credits full refundability multiplies the total anti-poverty impact by almost eight times, lifting an estimated 4.1 million children out of poverty.  

Housing investments in the House’s BBB package are also essential. As prospective resources for affordable housing assistance in the final package are reportedly being reduced to accommodate Democrats’ need to lower their topline spending number, Congress and the Biden Administration must commit to supporting vulnerable families by including robust investments that promote housing affordability here in New York and around the country.  

Scaling back or eliminating investments in public housing, rental assistance, and affordable housing production will significantly reduce the impact of other investments provided in the economic recovery package — from childcare to eldercare. The House’s proposal includes voucher investments that would help about 1.7 million Americans secure affordable, safe, and stable housing. And the public housing appropriation would be a lifeline for the New York City Housing Authority.

Beyond the CTC and housing investments, there are other critical economic security investments that we urge the delegation to support before the 117th Congress adjourns in December. The country faces a $1.7 trillion student loan debt crisis, the second largest form of consumer debt next to mortgages. In response, we urge Congress to create and provide a dedicated federal funding stream to support Consumer Assistance Programs (CAPs) to student loan borrowers. Supporting these programs would provide meaningful assistance and resources to borrowers as Congressional leaders and the White House considers how to assist Americans burdened with crushing student loan debt, including 2.4 million New Yorkers. 

Student loan debt is especially onerous for low-income borrowers, first generation college students, women, and older adults. Borrowers have no option but to rely on a federal loan servicer industry that disseminates incomplete and sometimes erroneous information, resulting in missed opportunities for reducing or eliminating debt. Additionally, federal discharge and forgiveness programs have become so complex that few individuals have been able to successfully benefit from them. These issues have only worsened in the COVID-19 related economic crisis despite efforts to temporarily pause the repayment and accrual of interest on loans to select borrowers.  

Finally, our nation would also benefit from a restoration of federal funding of health care CAPs. The 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) provided an annual appropriation for consumer assistance programs to provide a dedicated federal funding stream to ensure financial support and consumer protections that were outlined in the Act. Unfortunately, CAPs have not received federal appropriations since then. 

The lack of federal funding has forced some state and local governments to assume funding responsibility—and other states to simply close their CAPs down.  Because of the funding deficits, the remaining CAP programs cannot meet the current demand for assistance and to ensure Americans receive the covered benefits they need and deserve. As Congress continues to move quicky to provide support to individuals who are underinsured or who have lost their jobs and health care coverage due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, CAPs will be critically needed to help consumers understand and utilize their health care options.  

The survival of our most vulnerable families, especially Black and Brown New Yorkers hit hardest by the coronavirus and the economic crisis that ensued, depend on the choices that are now being made in Congress.  

We have a tremendous opportunity to cut child poverty by historical proportions and invest in affordable and public housing while also providing Americans with crucial assistance and resources so that they can effectively navigate the health care and student loan debt sectors.  

We thank you for your leadership and your consideration of this request.

David R. Jones, Esq., is President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York (CSS), the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for more than 170 years.  The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer.  The Urban Agenda is available on CSS’s website: www.cssny.org.

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