COVID is hurting our children—and so is Congress. New research from the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia shows an additional 8 million Americans—including 2.5 million children—have fallen into poverty since May as a result of our leaders’ failure to extend and expand the income support families need to keep their children fed, clothed, and housed. Looking at changes in monthly poverty rates, Columbia found that monthly poverty has risen beyond pre-COVID levels since Congress allowed COVID relief to expire and failed to provide additional assistance. According to Columbia, the stimulus checks and expanded unemployment benefits included in the CARES Act initially prevented a rise in poverty, keeping as many as 18 million Americans out of poverty in April and May. However, much of this progress was reversed throughout the summer after cash assistance dried up in June and the $600 weekly extra unemployment benefits expired in July. By September, the poverty reduction impact of the CARES Act had fallen dramatically and poverty rates had risen among all groups.
Shamefully, children and Black and Hispanic Americans have been hit the hardest and borne the brunt of our leaders’ failure to provide adequate income support during this crisis. Since the start of the pandemic, children have experienced the largest increase in monthly poverty relative to other age groups. Columbia estimates the SPM monthly child poverty rate increased 1.7 percentage points from 18.7 percent in January to 20.4 percent in September. Racial disparities also worsened over this same period, with Black-White and Hispanic-White poverty gaps increasing 1 to 2 percentage points. By September, more than 1 in 4 Black and Hispanic Americans (25.2 percent and 25.8 percent, respectively) were poor—double the rate for white Americans.
Unfortunately, these devastating spikes in child poverty and racial inequity were entirely preventable. In May and September, the House of Representative passed two additional relief packages to avoid this needless suffering and provide families more robust income support. With a single vote and stroke of a pen, the Senate and President could have passed this legislation and prevented millions of children from falling into—or deeper into—poverty. But they chose not to act. Instead, Majority Leader McConnell and his Republican colleagues put the interests of their party before the needs of the American people. Refusing to negotiate in earnest, they rushed a Supreme Court confirmation last week and plan to advance a woefully inadequate $500 billion skinny COVID relief bill this week. The Senate is doing everything in its power to fill a Supreme Court vacancy but not to feed our children.
It’s time to rethink and reset our priorities. We cannot allow COVID or Congress to deny our children the resources they need to grow, learn, and thrive. Columbia’s report confirms we desperately and urgently need additional income support to prevent further spikes in poverty and protect our children from irreparable harm. Congress can and must stem the tide of rising poverty right now by extending unemployment benefits, providing additional cash assistance, expanding the Child Tax Credit to a monthly child allowance, extending the Earned Income Tax Credit to childless adults, boosting SNAP, and ensuring all children—regardless of age, income, or immigration status—are eligible for these lifesaving benefits. We must not give up or give in until they do. To read our list of priorities for COVID relief, click here.