This month of warm tidings has been rife with examples of how we fail to value lower-income families and the working class in the United States. You’d think we would know better after all that talk from early in the pandemic about how frontline workers showed up for this country.
Here’s one example: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is investigating the collapse of an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, where six workers were killed, one was injured and 45 people were rescued safely after one of at least 30 tornadoes ripped through several Midwestern and Southern states. Some of those employees reported never having received safety training, such as participating in evacuation drills, and didn’t know what to do when the tornado hit. Employees of a candle factory in Kentucky were told they’d be fired if they left, even as severe-weather warnings were issued for the area.
In other working-class news, the monthly child tax credit payments that have helped families with children survive over the past six months will expire unless Congress acts by the end of December. The credit, part of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better plan, is meant to combat poverty by giving families a financial boost while recovering from the pandemic. Unless Congress acts swiftly, those payments will end for 35 million families with 65 million
Those payments would make a huge difference: As we navigate a second holiday season during this pandemic, there is one marked contrast from last year — inflation. And it will continue to be an issue. Costs have risen on just about everything during the past year — from retail (retailers, eager to move items off their shelves, were offering deep discounts this time last year) to food, gas and utilities.
If you are living below the poverty line and raising kids, $300 a month per child under the age of 5 and $250 per child per month for children 6-17 years old could be the difference between having and not having electricity, or gas, or money for public transportation because you need to get your kid back and forth to school or the doctor. Unless we create a system that provides livable wages (not minimum wage) — meaning you have the means to pay your rent, put food on the table and cover your transportation costs in exchange for 40 hours of work per week — then guess what? We have to use our tax dollars to make up the difference. Poor people pay taxes too, often disproportionately through sales taxes.
So, if Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) — and all the other legislators who share his values — have a problem with putting money directly in the hands of families, then work on giving them fair pay for their work. Otherwise, how is this anything other than the moral failure of our government?
Congress needs to make this a merry Christmas for the millions of families depending on those funds by making them permanent. According to a 2020 study conducted by The Children’s Defense Fund, 1 in 6 children in the U.S. lives in poverty, “making them the poorest age group in the country.” Nearly three-quarters of those children are Black, Indigenous and People of Color. It is a disgrace.
Due to these recent tornadoes, we have once again been given an opportunity to see how poverty is exacerbated when catastrophe hits.
The hypocrisy is obvious when watching legislators fight against the distribution of aid to states impacted by crises — they’re the same people who are the first to ask for federal assistance when their state experiences a disaster.
If we’re going to Build Back Better, then that’s exactly what we should do. Let’s start by referring to these proposals as a move toward equality and justice, rather than welfare, for those living in poverty or barely getting by.