Family care, education anchor $1.8 trillion Biden plan

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – Under the third significant domestic policy package put forward in President Joe Biden’s first 100 days, two years of community college education would be free, universal preschool would be free for 3- and 4-year-olds, direct aid to families would help make child care more affordable, and a national paid family and medical leave program would give workers the guarantee of time off to deal with life events.

The $1.8 trillion package, dubbed by the White House as the American Families Plan, is meant to work in tandem with the $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan Biden announced in March — the so-called American Jobs Plan — as “once-in-a-generation” domestic investments. To pay for those investments, which the president is expected to lay out in greater detail when he addresses Congress on Wednesday night, Biden is also proposing to levy a greater tax on high earners.

“The American Jobs Plan will create millions of good jobs, rebuild our country’s physical infrastructure and workforce, and spark innovation and manufacturing here at home,” a senior White House official said in a press briefing. “The American Families Plan invests in our children and our families, helping families cover the expenses that so many struggle with now: lowering health insurance premiums; cutting child poverty; and producing a larger, more productive, and healthier workforce in the years ahead.”

Around education, the president is proposing four years of free schooling — two years of pre-K ($200 billion) and two years of community college ($109 billion) — for every student. The maximum Pell Grant would be expanded about 20 percent ($80 billion), and the bill would also provide grants ($46 billion) to Historically Black Colleges and Universities to create or expand high-demand programs, fund efforts to improve completion and retention at community colleges ($62 billion), and train and diversify America’s teachers ($9 billion).

For pre-K, the White House said Biden will call for “a national partnership with states to offer free, high-quality, accessible, and inclusive preschool to all three-and four-year-olds.” Officials said the $200 billion pre-K program would benefit about 5 million children and save the average family $13,000.

The White House said its $225 billion child care proposal would provide direct aid to families so that the cost of care is on a sliding scale corresponding to the family’s income. That would save the average family $14,800 per year on child care expenses, officials said. Child care costs for a family could range from $0 for “the most hard-pressed working families” to a maximum of 7 percent of family income, the administration said.

The plan’s child care provision would be based on the existing Child Care Development Block Grant, “building on an existing infrastructure at the state level,” a White House official said. Under that program, states would be expected to pay for a portion of the cost of free universal pre-K.

A White House official said it would start at a “low end, the amount that states pay. And as time goes on, an expectation that they will pay more.”

Separate from the president’s announcement Wednesday, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday said that he plans to use some of the federal aid heading to his state from the American Rescue Plan to invest nearly $200 million to stabilize the child care industry, provide child care for women in workforce development programs, and provide child care subsidies.

Massachusetts legislative leaders have said they plan to make decisions about the use of ARPA funding in June.

Biden is also calling for a national paid family and medical leave benefit, like the state program that recently became available to workers in Massachusetts. The president is proposing that workers receive partial wage replacement (up to $4,000 per month) to take time to bond with a new child, care for an ill loved one, deal with a military deployment, find safety from sexual assault or domestic violence, recover from their own illness, or grieve the death of a loved one.

After a 10-year ramp-up period, workers would be guaranteed 12 weeks of paid parental, family, and personal illness/safe leave. Three days of bereavement leave per year would become available in the first year of the ramp-up. The program is projected to cost $225 billion over a decade.

“The COVID pandemic has highlighted the need for a national paid sick leave policy, to help workers and their loved ones quickly recover from short-term illness and prevent the spread of disease,” the White House said.

Last week, the Massachusetts House sent legislation (H 3702) relative to a COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave program to its Committee on Bills in the Third Reading. That proposal — highlighted as an early-session priority for legislative leaders — was originally part of a broader bill dealing with the Unemployment Trust Fund, but Gov. Charlie Baker returned the sick leave program sections to the Legislature in early April.

To pay for the so-called American Families Plan, which is made up of $1 trillion in new spending and $800 million in tax credits expected to be paid over a decade, Biden is proposing an increase in the income tax rate for the top 1 percent of earners, from 37 percent to 39.6 percent. He is also pitching higher capital gains and dividend tax rates for people who earn more than $1 million, and the elimination of other tax provisions.

Taken together, the White House said the tax measures Biden is newly proposing would raise $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. Combined with the infrastructure plan, which includes corporate tax provisions, the White House said the combined $4.1 trillion infrastructure and families investment “would be fully paid for over the next 15 years.”

The tax provisions, especially, have been met with resistance by Congressional Republicans.

“If people have other ideas about how to … finance these critical investments, he is open to hearing them,” a senior Biden administration official said of the president.

In his first 100 days in office, Biden has now proposed $6 trillion in new spending and programs. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act was signed into law in March after passing without a single Republican vote of support, and the GOP has so far been cool to Biden’s latest proposals.

“President Biden ran as a moderate, but I’m hard pressed to think of anything at all that he’s done so far that would indicate some degree of moderation,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

Though it did not allude specifically to either of Biden’s two pending domestic spending proposals, the MassGOP on Tuesday night sent a fundraising email saying the party wants to “put a big dent in the Biden administration’s far-left agenda” in part by recruiting “rock-ribbed Republican candidates” in winnable legislative districts to “do some serious damage to the Democratic super majority on Beacon Hill.”

Biden is scheduled to address Congress and the American public Wednesday at 9 p.m. The address will be broadcast on the major networks.

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