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Pitts: U.S. Congress passed a law that cut childhood poverty; bring it back

The Fayetteville Observer logo The Fayetteville Observer 3 days ago Myron B. Pitts, The Fayetteville Observer

More than 58 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty.

Since then, the United States has sought to improve the social safety net through a series of federal programs. Some work better than others.

But poverty remains.

a man wearing glasses and looking at the camera: Myron B. Pitts © File Myron B. Pitts

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we learned some lessons about fighting poverty, at least among children — our most vulnerable population. I am hoping we will not just throw out these lessons.

More:Congress let COVID-era relief expire. Millions of kids already have fallen into poverty.

I am not encouraged by what I see so far.

The 2021 expanded child tax credit reduced poverty among children, as it was designed to do when it was passed by the Congress during the pandemic and signed by President Biden. It dropped child poverty to a record low of 5.2%, according to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. It also reduced child hunger.

More:Troy Williams: Poverty in Cumberland, U.S. can be a tough cycle

The expanded credit boosted the original version of the credit from $2,000 per child to $3,600 per child below age 6 and $3,000 per child 6 through 17. It also made more parents eligible, with the exception of high-earners.

It added a key option: Parents could take the credit in monthly payments of up to $300, where it could be put to immediate use paying for childcare, groceries or bills. (And yes, being middle-class earners, my wife and I do qualify for the credit, which we used for our two childrens’ after-school care expenses.)

The tax credit extended to 35 million American families. Just one month after the credit expired last December, Nearly 4 million children fell into poverty.

Many attempts to reduce poverty have been tried and many have failed. This one worked. 

 I am a person of logic. To me, if we as a nation finally find a way to reduce poverty, one of our more entrenched social problems — especially among children — I say we take it.

Instead, Congress walked away last December, unable to reach an agreement to extend the program.

(Congress also walked away from universal free school lunches, which also helped millions of children — but that is a topic for another time.)

I understand that Democrats and Republicans have different philosophies over how to fix problems, to include poverty. I also know that in Washington the party out of power — in this case, Republicans — usually refuses to play ball with the party in the White House — in this case, Democratic President Biden.

In this July 26, 2021 photo, Brianne Walker plays with her 3-year-old daughter, Jeannette, at A Place To Grow daycare in Brentwood, N.H. Walker and her family have qualified for the expanded child tax credit, part of President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. "The additional money does help alleviate the pressure," said Walker, 29, who took custody of her two siblings last year after her mother overdosed. The $800 credit will help make up for losses she incurred after quitting a kitchen design job to care for her three children, as well as her two younger brothers. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) ORG XMIT: NHEA204 © Elise Amendola, AP In this July 26, 2021 photo, Brianne Walker plays with her 3-year-old daughter, Jeannette, at A Place To Grow daycare in Brentwood, N.H. Walker and her family have qualified for the expanded child tax credit, part of President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. "The additional money does help alleviate the pressure," said Walker, 29, who took custody of her two siblings last year after her mother overdosed. The $800 credit will help make up for losses she incurred after quitting a kitchen design job to care for her three children, as well as her two younger brothers. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) ORG XMIT: NHEA204

But when the goal is this worthy, that’s when you sit down and hash out a compromise. With all the lip service politicians pay about keeping our children safe, the tax credit should be about more than partisan politics.

The two parties were able to work together on issues like the infrastructure bill. So why can’t they work together on this issue, too?

The roots of poverty

Recently, I had a conversation with Brandon Price, CEO of the nonprofit Fayetteville Area Habitat for Humanity, at his office on Bragg Boulevard. We talked mainly about Habitat’s clients who are first-time homebuyers with a modest income. They partly build their own homes, or otherwise volunteer for Habitat, and receive favorable credit options and low- to zero interest loans.

In our conversation, I asked Price if there was a housing shortage, especially when it comes to affordable housing. He said yes — and said that in some respects there always is.

Brandon Price is CEO of Fayetteville Area Habitat for Humanity © Contributed Brandon Price is CEO of Fayetteville Area Habitat for Humanity

Price felt it was important to trace the roots of contemporary poverty that made homes unaffordable for many in Fayetteville and beyond. He talked about how returning soldiers from World War II took advantage of the G.I. Bill, with tuition for college, loans for homes and other benefits. But not all soldiers got these well-deserved benefit.

“Unfortunately for African-American soldiers — many of them if not most of them did not receive that,” Price said. “There was the clear line of distinction immediately.

“Then of course red-lining comes in where they quite literally draw a red line around impoverished communities, which at that point, would have been mostly minority communities and said, ‘You can’t build in this area or around it.’ Not small businesses, not homes. That was the greatest impact in housing at that point. I want to paint that picture.” 

He talked about how that past discrimination led to literally roads dividing a town into a more prosperous white and section and a Black section that was less so.

The concentrated poverty brought its own ills, Price continued: “What immediately follows that is crime, drugs, gangs, prostitution  — all the things that are attached to trying to survive.

“Then what grows up around those communities — alcohol stores, tobacco stores, the stores that sell all the things you probably wouldn’t want your children to have access to or see, in and around those communities. Not a Whole Foods store — the healthier options are not there.” 

Then we talked about how a lot of the families that purchased their home through Habitat worked straight through the pandemic, because their jobs were in some way defined as essential — they are certified nursing assistants, teachers, hairstylists, other service industry roles. Price talked about how purchasing a home saved them hundreds of dollars they were overpaying in rent.

My point in recounting what Price said? It’s all connected: Affordable housing, childcare, a safe, livable community with fresh food available.

**FILE** President Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, center left, leave the home in Inez, Ky., of Tom Fletcher, a father of eight who told Johnson he'd been out of work for nearly two years, in this April 24, 1964, file photo. The president visited the Appalachian area in Eastern Kentucky to see conditions firsthand and announce his War on Poverty from the Fletcher porch. (AP Photo/FILE) © File **FILE** President Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, center left, leave the home in Inez, Ky., of Tom Fletcher, a father of eight who told Johnson he'd been out of work for nearly two years, in this April 24, 1964, file photo. The president visited the Appalachian area in Eastern Kentucky to see conditions firsthand and announce his War on Poverty from the Fletcher porch. (AP Photo/FILE)

We know also crippling poverty impacts rural America, too, which struggles with issues ranging from a lack of broadband access or reliable access to healthcare, even as an opioid epidemic still simmers.

I believe anything that puts more money in the pockets of hard-working families is a plus for them, their children and for America.

When politicians have available a solution that can help ease poverty, they should take it.

That is all I am saying.

*******

If you feel the same, maybe you can reach out to our elected officials. Their contact information is below. 

For Fayetteville and North Carolina

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr: 217 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510 202-224-3154

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis: 113 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510 202-224-6342

U.S. Sen-elect Ted Budd: 103 Cannon HOB Washington, DC 2015 202-225-4531

U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson: Fayetteville District Office: Green Street, Suite 202, Fayetteville, NC  28301 910-997-2070

U.S. Rep. David Rouzer: 2333 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515 202-225-2731

Find your senator or representative

Find your U.S. Senator here.

Find your U.S. Congressional representative here.

Myron B. Pitts can be reached at mpitts@fayobserver.com or 910-486-3559.

This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: Pitts: U.S. Congress passed a law that cut childhood poverty; bring it back

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