In a 1963 speech, President John F. Kennedy stated, “No American is ever made better off by pulling a fellow American down, and every American is made better off whenever any one of us is made better off. A rising tide raises all boats.”
Some interpreted this to mean that the rich should not be taxed to help those who are not rich. Others see this quote justifying providing social services for the low and middle class, with the reasoning that as their economic situation improves, so does the nation as a whole.
President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, designed to increase taxes for the super-rich while providing economic benefits to low-and middle-class families all in one fell swoop, is bound to rise the tide so high it causes damaging flooding. Most disturbing is that it sets up expectations with promises that simply cannot be fulfilled for decades to come.
Take the example of the promise of universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds. There is not now, nor is there likely to be in the near future, the personnel and facilities to make this a reality, as desirable as it is. There are scholarships available through the American Recovery Act for more families to enroll their young children right now that are going unused in communities large and small because there simply are not openings in existing preschools for additional enrollment.
That portion of the funding should first be dedicated to providing the resources needed to expand access, including educating for free potential preschool teachers and aides, building facilities in which to house preschools, providing all that is needed to support high-quality services, and increasing salaries to make this an attractive vocation. Fund the horse before the cart.
There is one aspect of Biden’s Build Back Better Act, however, that indeed is lifting all boats right now, and if continued, will do so for years to come. That is the proposal to continue the increased child tax credit. This full benefit for couples earning less than $150,000 a year and single parents $75,000 has already risen at least 40 percent of families out of poverty, according to numerous research institutions.
The child tax credit itself is not new. Before the increase, the deduction of $2,000 for each eligible child was calculated when income taxes were filed. With the added federal funding, the credit increased to $3,000 for those that qualify for children between 6 and 17 years old and to $3,600 for children under 6 years old. Perhaps what made these increases most immediately beneficial is that families did not have to wait until they filed their 2022 taxes to receive funding.
From July through December this year, families were provided a payment each month. For a family with one parent working as a law enforcement officer and the other as a teacher, their adjusted yearly income would be approximately $110,000 based on the average salaries in Arizona for those positions. If the couple had two children over 6 and one under, they would be receiving a payment of $800 a month. When they do file taxes, they can claim the other 50 percent of the child tax credit to offset their owed taxes or even get a refund if their owed taxes are less than that. But that increase and monthly check ends in December.
Even in this family of two working parents, the tide is risen all around them, given the soaring costs of just about everything. Imagine what the payments are doing for the truly poor in terms of providing food, clothing, housing, and other necessities. This benefits the providers of these goods and landlords as it indeed trickles down even to those without children, not just in theory but also in reality. And more boats do indeed float. Let’s keep it that way for a truly better America.
Scott is an educator and long-term resident of Nogales, Arizona.