The White House on Monday promoted what the Biden administration sees as the benefits for Latino families of the $1.7 trillion safety net and climate change package Democrats passed last week.
In a White House-organized call with reporters, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, called the legislation "historic" and said it was a "tremendous investment" in American families as they struggle to recover from the coronavirus-wracked economy.
Becerra said the funding in the Build Back Better Act would help families pay for child care and preschool education funding, provide child tax credits and help families pay for Obamacare health insurance plans.
It would cut costs for three of the most expensive items in families’ budgets: health care, housing and child care, Ruiz said.
Ruiz and Becerra said the child care provision — which would cap child care costs for six years at 7 percent for families earning up to 250 percent of their states’ median incomes — would help Latinas “who had to bear the brunt of cuts in wages and unemployment” because of the pandemic.
Extending the child tax credit would be like money in your pocket, Ruiz said.
Also in the bill is money to pay for universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-old children for two years. The money is said to be enough to pay for free preschool for more than 6 million children.
Becerra said the bill offers older Americans the kind of help that his late father, a laborer, and his mother, who did clerical work, never had.
“I’m from a migrant family, and I understand the importance of being able to say anyone who has worked very hard, helping to lift this country, helping to build it, now this country is going to invest in you," Becerra said in Spanish.
Ruiz said that while the country is rounding the corner on the pandemic, Covid-19 has disproportionately affected essential workers and Hispanic communities. "Working families and parents are continuing to feel the lingering effects of the pandemic," he said.
The legislation, which was crafted by Democrats, was approved Friday by the House and is now before the Senate, where leaders are working with centrist Democrats to get the necessary votes.
‘A blockbuster’ investment
The House bill would provide the money for pre-K for all children, regardless of families’ incomes, with states eventually having to add money to cover some of the costs.
Before the pandemic, about 27 percent of children in public school were Hispanic. In 2019-20, only about 4 in 10 (43 percent) of 3- to 5-year-olds were enrolled in school, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The pre-K provisions would help not only groups that haven’t had access to quality pre-K, but also middle-class and upper-income families that often don’t qualify for subsidized preschool programs, said former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, who was housing secretary in the Obama administration.
Castro, the only major Latino presidential candidate last year, said the universal pre-K part of the bill would be “a godsend” for many families and a “blockbuster” investment to celebrate.
Early education varies among states, six of which had no state-funded pre-K program in the 2019-20 school year, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.
Early data this school year show a 3 percent drop in all public school enrollment. The drop was higher among children in preschool and kindergarten than in later grades.
Build Back Better’s success depends on states’ doing their part, Castro said. As mayor, Castro got San Antonio voters to support a half-cent sales tax in 2012 to create quality preschool for low-income children. The program is considered highly successful.
Build Back Better’s provision would allow school districts or nonprofit organizations to help with costs for their areas even if their states don’t participate.
“I’m hopeful that even conservative states like Texas and other places that don’t have universal pre-K will meet the challenge,” Castro said. “But if they don’t, then I encourage local communities to go ahead and universalize pre-K.”
Better times ahead?
Delivering a message of economic better times to the Latino community is critical for Democrats.
The 2022 midterm election season will ramp up after the holidays, and Democrats need to be able blunt GOP arguments about inflation and the effects of climate change provisions on fossil fuels.
President Donald Trump and other Republicans expanded their support on those issues last year among Latino voters, particularly in Texas. They also succeeded in framing Democratic programs as socialism, largely in Florida, where Cuban and Latin American voters connect the word with regimes from which they fled or in which have roots.
in a statement after the House vote Friday, Macarena Martinez, the Republican National Committee spokeswoman for Texas, previewed more of what to expect.
She said one African American and three Latino members of Congress, all Texas Democrats, "went all in for Biden's socialist agenda: 'Build Back Broke' at a time when Texas families already are being hit with skyrocketing inflation, record high gas prices, and an unmitigated border crisis."
Latino unemployment began dropping in 2010 during the Obama administration and fell to about 4 percent early in the Trump administration. Latinos also had begun to experience a comeback from the Great Recession. The pandemic reversed that.
The uncontrolled virus has put the Latino economic recovery at risk and cost some Latinos some of the wealth they had rebuilt.
Latinos are 2.1 times more likely to die from Covid-19 compared to white Americans and 2.5 times more likely to be hospitalized, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cases of Covid-19 are 1.6 times more likely among Latinos than whites, the CDC data show.
As of April, only 1 in 6 Hispanic workers were able to work from home during the pandemic, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
In addition, Democrats need to buffer themselves from backlash they could face over immigration provisions in the bill.
Immigrants advocates and many Democrats had hoped to include a pathway to citizenship in the legislation. But it would now provide only five-year work permits that could be renewed for five more years for about 7 million undocumented immigrants already in the county. If that is jettisoned to get the bill through the Senate, Democrats may feel the backlash from their base of support.
Democrats are using a process to get the bill through the Senate that allows them to sidestep Republicans, most of whom oppose the immigration measures.
But they also have to get the OK to have the immigration language in the bill from the Senate parliamentarian, and at least two Senate Democrats are lukewarm about the immigration provision, as well. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has urged the Senate to keep the provision.
The White House and Democrats put the focus Monday on legislation that they believe would have a direct impact on Latino households.
Ruiz said the legislation would be a “rocket booster for the economy that will launch families across the country towards success by putting money in pockets.”