SPRINGFIELD — A proposal unveiled Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal for universal paid family and medical leave, guaranteed access to child care and for the child-tax credit to be made permanent offers a path back from the lingering economic troubles of the pandemic, the congressman said in an interview.
“I think that the pandemic alerted us to the new realities of workforce participation,” Neal, D-Springfield, said amid a national rollout of his proposal, called the Economy for Families Act. “At the same time we still have lost 8 million jobs that have not returned. Four million people who were looking for work and are not looking for work.”
Neal’s plan was released a day before President Joe Biden’s address to Congress Wednesday night.
Elements of the proposal involving child care and support for those caring for sick family members were designed to address a phenomenon reported by employers around the country: they’re hiring, but they’re not getting the applicants they need.
“I don’t agree with all of it. I suspect it might be some of it,” Neal, chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, said Tuesday when asked if more generous unemployment benefits were to blame. Those benefits will run out in September. He said the stronger argument at this stage is that COVID-19 and the pandemic’s disruptions to child care networks are keeping people, especially women, on the sidelines of the labor market.
“It’s not just the road we pave that gets us to work. It’s the child care that keeps us confidently at work,” Neal said.
Meanwhile, the child tax credits in the American Rescue Plan — which start in two months, and which some experts say will cut child poverty rates in half — will expire at the end of the year.
Neal’s plan calls for an annual tax credit of $3,000 per child, and the figure rises to $3,600 for young children. The credit is fully refundable, meaning the recipient receives a monthly payment.
On Wednesday, according to the Washington Post, Biden is expected to announce plans to extend the child tax credit for five years.
“Let’s see what the president has to say,” Neal said, adding that he consulted with the White House on Monday.
Another provision of Neal’s proposal is a fully refundable child and dependent care credit, providing up to $8,000 for qualifying child care expenses of up to $16,000. A proposed earned income tax credit would nearly triple the maximum credit for workers without dependents.
Other proposals include a new refundable payroll tax credit for child care providers to raise wages of essential child care workers, and Child Care Information Network for parents and caregivers to access information about available child care slots.
Neal’s proposal is part of a pattern of congressional Democrats pushing the Biden administration to take bigger steps toward reshaping the economy. The Post cited calls for an expansion to Medicare.
Neal said he supports an expansion of the Affordable Care Act, the so-called Obamacare legislation, which would make coverage more portable and include expanded subsidies. Neal said Biden largely embraces the plan.
“Let’s have a conversation about what we are desirous of,” Neal said. “Then let’s talk about how to pay for it.”
Neal said the total cost of the proposal won’t be public until it is scored by the Congressional Budget Office. Details of how to raise any money will be the subject of negotiations in the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.