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Two preschool students dance at A to Z Building Blocks in Orem on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. The American Rescue Plan signed by President Joe Biden this week features eight provisions for struggling families that captured less attention than the cash deposits and unemployment assistance.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

8 ways the American Rescue Plan hopes to help families survive COVID-19, besides stimulus checks

The $1.9 trillion package includes some temporary help for families that have been overshadowed by the cash relief

SHARE 8 ways the American Rescue Plan hopes to help families survive COVID-19, besides stimulus checks
SHARE 8 ways the American Rescue Plan hopes to help families survive COVID-19, besides stimulus checks

Round three of the cash stimulus payments, which may start hitting checking accounts as soon as this weekend, have drawn most of the attention and headlines for the American Rescue Plan signed by President Joe Biden this week.

But there are other features that are supposed to help families struggling with the economic challenges posed by the pandemic. The measures are nearly all temporary, the stated aim to soften hardship to individuals and families sparked by COVID-19’s impact on jobs and income, as well as boost the economy and avoid deep recession.

In Biden’s words, they are intended to “get the country in a place to get back to normal.”

Here are eight provisions for struggling families that captured less attention than the cash deposits and unemployment assistance:

1. A bigger child tax credit

For 2021, the amount of the credit will increase to $3,000 per child age 6 to 17, and $3,600 for younger children. The bill also closed gaps that prevented very low-wage or no-wage Americans from claiming the child tax credit.

Under existing law, the credit didn’t include 17-year-olds, but the new legislation adds them.

As NPR reported, “The amount is gradually reduced for couples earning over $150,000 and individuals earning over $75,000 per year. Families eligible for the full credit will get payments of up to $300 per child per month from July through the end of the year.”

“The bill would make the full value of the credit available to low-income people who are currently ineligible or receive only a portion,” according to The New York Times. “And for the second half of this year, it would have the federal government send advance payments of the credit to Americans in periodic installments, akin to a guaranteed income for families with children.”

2. Making future student loan forgiveness nontaxable

Congress is still wrestling with the notion of student loan debt and whether at least a portion of it should be forgiven and, if so, who could benefit. But the bill Biden signed this week stipulates that any student loan forgiveness that is passed this year through Jan. 1, 2026, will not be taxable as income.

3. Child care and development block grant funds

Close to $15 billion contained in the American Rescue Plan is targeted to go to the Child Care & Development Block Grant program to bolster child care facilities, with an emphasis on those located where there is high need for day care. The White House bills it as “the single biggest investment in child care since World War II.” 

A Biden administration fact sheet notes that “families will get back as a refundable tax credit as much as half of their spending on child care for children under age 13, so that they can receive a total of up to $4,000 for one child or $8,000 for two or more children.”

4. Energy assistance for low-income families

Among other provisions, $4.5 billion will be added to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, aimed at helping needy families with the cost of heating and cooling their homes.

5. Increased access to nutrition

According to a White House briefing paper, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (food stamps) will increase by 15% through September. The bill also pays for a collaboration with restaurants “to feed American families and keep workers in the restaurant industry on the job.”

Families with very young children could get additional help, too. Writes NPR, “One provision will give the agriculture secretary the authority and funding to temporarily boost the value of cash vouchers for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children up to $35 per month for women and children for a four-month period during the pandemic.”

Some nutrition-boost provisions specifically try to help older adults, including $37 million to the Commodity Supplemental Food Program for those who are low-income.

6. More resources for needy older Americans

The new law includes increased financial support for programs for older adults, including community-based programs and those designed to help caregivers.

7. Rental assistance.

Of the $25 billion for emergency rental assistance, 20% will be used for emergency housing vouchers for those experiencing homelessness, domestic violence survivors and people victimized by human trafficking.

8. Health insurance subsidies

The bill temporarily increases subsidies for people who buy their health insurance through the federal marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act. Income-qualified families will see their monthly premiums drop for a few months.

People who lost their jobs in the pandemic but kept their insurance coverage temporarily through provisions of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, more commonly referred to simply as COBRA coverage, will have their premiums paid through September, too.

The New York Times reported that the signed measure also puts billions into public health programs and veterans health care.