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The most important legislation in a generation

Commentary
November 3, 2021By Alejandro Queral

After months of cajoling, vote wrangling and arm twisting, Congress is nearing the final lap of the legislative marathon that is the Build Back Better Act. While the details are just coming into focus, the emerging framework could mean a major step toward increasing economic opportunity for all, reducing poverty, and eliminating racial inequities for Oregon’s children, families, and workers. Congress — including Oregon’s congressional delegation—need to carry this over the finish line.

If enacted, the Build Back Better Act would be the most consequential legislation we’ve seen in a generation. The package includes transformational investments that could lead to historic reductions in child hunger and child poverty, particularly among Black and Latino children. It would expand access to stable, affordable housing, providing critical resources to help families maintain stable housing and prevent more people from falling into homelessness. The framework would help reduce the cost of child care and would expand access to free universal pre-K, which remains one of the most significant economic burdens facing low-income Oregonians. And it puts a historic down payment ($500 billion) toward combating climate change.

Much has been made about the cost of these investments, but the reality is that the plan is fully paid for by taxing big corporations and the rich, two groups that have elevated tax avoidance to an artform. For corporations, the bill establishes a 15 percent corporate minimum tax and a tax on corporate stock buybacks. For the wealthiest Americans, it establishes tax surcharges of 5 percent on those with incomes above $10 million and an additional 3 percent on those with incomes above $25 million. Importantly, the bill would strengthen the Internal Revenue Service’s ability to prosecute those skirting the law, focusing on those at the top of the income ladder.

To be clear, the apparent legislative compromise jettisons components of the original plan that would bolster the economic security of families in additional important ways. Paid family leave is no longer in the mix, leaving many workers to choose between work and taking care of a new baby or sick family member. Free community college has also been eliminated.

But many key provisions remain in place, including the Child Tax Credit. The bill extends the improved Child Tax Credit through 2022, while permanently ensuring that families with little or no income are supported in raising their children, just like families with reportable income. This is vital, especially when one considers that the revamped Child Tax Credit is already having an impact on Black and Latino children and is paying economic dividends. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that 87 percent of low-income Oregon families are using their Child Tax Credit payments for basic necessities such as food, rent, and utilities. This tax credit holds the potential to lift more than 40 percent of children from poverty.

Even though shorn, the new framework emerging out of Capitol Hill would still be the most important piece of legislation in a generation. It makes major gains for our families and future that we cannot afford to miss.