Enacted just 50 days into his term, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan was the first step in President Biden’s strategy to stabilize families, reopen schools, make COVID-19 vaccines readily available, and get people back to work. Saturday, March 11 marks two years since the enactment. Its success could not be more apparent than in our progress in expanding access to health care, reducing childhood poverty, and closing the digital divide.
President Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to call for health care reform over 100 years ago. President Barack Obama sought to meet that call with the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA provided subsidies for private health insurance for many low- and middle-income Americans, while strongly incentivizing states to expand Medicaid to provide coverage for those with lower incomes.
The American Rescue Plan also enhanced the incentive to expand Medicaid for the 12 states that had yet to do so. Since then, two of these states, South Dakota and North Carolina, have decided to move forward, which will expand coverage to more than 300,000 uninsured Americans living in poverty. Nearly 2 million Americans in the 10 remaining non-expansion states, including more than 100,000 in my home state of South Carolina, still find themselves in the so-called coverage gap without any assistance. I urge these states to take advantage of the ARP’s incentives to expand, which will not only provide many low-income families with access to health care, but it will also help support our rural hospitals and create jobs.
The American Rescue Plan’s financial lifelines include the expansion of the Child Tax Credit. The expanded Child Tax Credit, paid monthly, increased per-year payments from $2,000 to $3,000 per child and provided an additional $600 per child under the age of 6. This became a lifeline for hardworking families throughout the pandemic. Nearly 4 million children were lifted out of poverty and the child poverty rate declined by 46% in one year.
Although the expansion expired at the end of 2021, it should be reinstituted and made permanent. U.S. Census surveys show that families used the Child Tax Credit to afford basic life necessities such as childcare, food, and medicine. Making this assistance permanent would help ensure our most vulnerable have the means to provide for their families. Families’ success in the 21st century is also dependent upon access to affordable, high-speed broadband. The American Rescue Plan included $350 billion to help state, local, and tribal governments fight the pandemic and build a strong and equitable recovery through investment in long-term growth and opportunity.
These funds have created a pathway to making high-speed internet service both accessible and affordable for every South Carolinian. The state was recently awarded $185.8 million from the American Rescue Plan’s Capital Projects Fund for high-speed broadband deployment, and the state has already set aside another $214.2 million of their allocation from the American Rescue Plan’s State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to further expand affordable, high-speed internet service.
Taken together with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and other federal funding programs, South Carolina now has the $600 million needed to bring universal access to high-speed, affordable internet service by 2026. This will connect our children to education. It will ensure our rural communities have access to telehealth and job opportunities. Most importantly, it will open a world of possibilities to every South Carolinian, no matter where they live.
I often say the 117th Congress was the most productive since President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. President Johnson admonished that the “…Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.”
After the gross negligence of the previous Administration, the American Rescue Plan put us back on track. Two years after its enactment, it continues to be the linchpin of President Joe Biden’s progress toward making our nation’s greatness accessible and affordable for all.