It has been an eventful few weeks at the United States Capitol. Congress has finally agreed on some of the most important issues facing the nation, and it has been a mixed bag for low-income families. Unemployment insurance was extended along with the refundable child tax credit. But we still have serious concerns about the growing national debt, and the promise of full citizenship for millions of children remains unfulfilled. Below is a wrap-up of these pieces of legislation as Congress adjourns this week.
Unemployment Insurance and Tax Cut Extensions
These were two of the major economic issues facing Congress when they reconvened after Thanksgiving. The President worked with Congressional leaders from both parties to broker a deal. Under the compromise that has now been signed into law, tax rates will remain the same for the coming two years. All rates were scheduled to reset to pre-2001 levels, essentially raising taxes on all Americans. We advocated for leaving all rates but the top two marginal income tax rates at current levels, allowing those rates on the highest income earners to reset. While we are very pleased that taxes for middle and low income families will not go up, we are concerned about the cost of the high-end tax cut extensions. The extension of those rates will cost upwards of $150 billion over the next two years.
We can be happy, though, that federal emergency unemployment insurance has also been extended. The long-term unemployed will retain their benefits for all 2011. Congress will have to re-evaluate this program at the end of next year, but most economists do expect hiring to increase over the coming 13 months.
The best news from our perspective on the compromise bill is the fact that the refundable child tax credit remains at its 2010 levels. This means more and more families at or near the poverty line will see these tax credits remain, giving these families the tools they need to meet everyday expenses.
Please visit The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities for a detailed breakdown of the UI/Tax Cut Deal.
2011 Budget & Spending
There was a brief moment of hope that Congress would pass a bipartisan spending bill for the coming year. This bill had millions of dollars dedicated to early childhood learning programs, ensuring a better beginning for children all over the country. Unfortunately the bill fell apart late last week, meaning the House and Senate chose instead to pass a continuing resolution (CR), which will last until March 4 and does not include the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) child care and Head Start/Early Head Start increases or the Early Learning Challenge Fund.
The potential exists for deep cuts to these critical programs with the next Congress. It is very important that we call all our representatives in Washington-especially the new members-to encourage them to support this critical funding.
Check out the National Women’s Law Center to see what we had hoped would get passed.
Despite having 55 votes in favor of the DREAM Act, Senate rules prevented a vote from ever taking place on the bill. The DREAM Act would provide a pathway to citizenship for children who are brought to the United States by their undocumented parents. If these kids live in the United State for three years, graduate from high school, and complete two years in college or military service they would have the chance to realize the American dream. Unfortunately, 41 United States Senators, including Senator Pryor, prevented a final vote on the bill, choosing to filibuster instead. This tactic delayed the bill, which will now have to start from scratch in the 112th Congress-under even more scrutiny from incoming conservative members in both the House and Senate.
First Focus details how the DREAM Act failed and how the dream still lives.
As we wrap-up the year, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families wants to thank two outgoing Congressional members who have been Champions for Children during their Congressional career: Senator Blanche Lincoln and Congressman Vic Snyder! Thank you both for all of your hard work over the years!