The results will be dramatic. Childhood poverty is expected to be cut by nearly half, and overall poverty in America will be cut by a third. $5 billion goes to small farm owners, a quarter of whom are Black and were abandoned by previous farm relief efforts. A temporary expansion of health insurance subsidies will help middle-income families priced out of the current marketplace—an absolutely urgent need during a world health crisis, and a measure that could prevent many of those families from being reduced to poverty by pandemic-related medical bills.
An analysis by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center now estimates that the poorest 20% of Americans will see their income boosted by 20%. This will lifting many of those families out of poverty.
And we could have done this, literally, at any time.
That’s the enraging part, of course. The news that we could lift nearly half of Americans living in poverty out of poverty, providing temporary assistance that will allow many families to regain their footing after personal crisis, with a single bill is both inspiring and maddening. For the same price as the 2017 Republican tax plan that devoted itself to the top 5% of earners and especially the top 1%, we could have lifted half the children of America out of poverty, provided survival payments to one in five Americans, and kept numerous Americans from dying. If, during any of those previous days, our own elected leaders gave a damn.
We didn’t do it back then because the crisis back then was not urgent enough to try, and because the cultish and thoroughly fraudulent notion that aiding the rich is merely aiding the poor by (better, more responsible) proxy has become as ingrained among the rich as sexual predation. We did not do it because we are a corrupt country of glad-handing murderers forever waffling between indifference at the plight of others and sneering self-satisfaction at our own fortunes. We did not do it because we are a Christian nation in the worst sense of the term, more devoted to picking at the scabs of poverty as means of bullying the poor into praising their rescuers than in providing the rescues.
Or perhaps we are just too tired, or too consumed with our own survival, or too frequently impotent against political structures that have developed into ecosystems of their own, connected to the rest of America more through fundraisers and ideological patronages than through elections themselves.
You’ll have to bear with me on this one. It is assuredly not healthy to dwell so much on what could have been, in past years. This victory, this year, will save American lives. It will lift children out of poverty, and does not care if they are “deserving” children or “undeserving” children. It will, this one time, give the same middle finger to deficit preeners that the deficit preeners give to everyone else during each delivery of new gifts to the chosen rich. By God, Congress has managed to pass a good bill. One that meets this crisis-bound moment. One that helps.
If Donald Trump had not been president, 500,000 dead Americans might well be alive right now. That is not an exaggeration, and this bill shows how it could have been done. The requirement one year ago was to halt pandemic spread. The virus itself is immobile and unthinking. It has no feet, and no wings. The sphere of genetic goo can’t make it so far as one inch without the assistance of a host, and any army could beat this thing without a single bullet spent. All it requires, at any point, is for the population to sit their behinds down and not move for the span of a few weeks, thus completely depriving the virus of new hosts, purging it from the old hosts, and erasing it.
It is both simple and nearly impossible. People need food. People need housing. People need a way to pay for both. It falls on the social safety net known as government to organize an effort that would allow people to keep access to A, B, and C during the crisis, and with a dedication equivalent to that needed during any other natural disaster.
If Trump had worn a mask rather than rebelling against them, wearing a mask would be the patriotic Fox News position.
If Republican leaders had asked Americans to stay home for one month, purging the virus from most of the population, and had bullied Congress into providing genuine aid to those that followed through, it would have so dampened the wave of infections so as to allow virus-tracking efforts to actually work rather than being rendered futile.
The only reason it was not done last year was because Donald Trump had no intention of fulfilling any presidential duty, and because the plodding fascism of “new” Republicanism quickly seized upon his indifference as Official Policy, and through the utter cowardice of Republican leaders who, like governors Abbott and DeSantis, calculated that washing their hands of pandemic deaths would be vastly preferable to taking on the pandemic and risking visible failure. One cannot be blamed for deaths declared to be unavoidable, after all. It is a tidy little trick for any politician in politics to sate their own ambitions rather than to do an ounce of good for anyone, and we are up to our eyebrows in those sorts of politicians.
So here we go. This is the first attempt at actually responding to the economic scope of a wound we did not ourselves cause, but which we had barely bothered to stitch up. It is absolutely assured to work, in relieving poverty, keeping children fed, keeping families in their homes, and repairing economic damage, because none of this is rocket science and we have known precisely how to alleviate crisis-caused poverty for at least a century. It will boost our economy, unambiguously, because we know money spent to alleviate poverty is swiftly spent in that same economy rather than squirreled away behind a network of “investments” that may or may exist as anything beyond a post office box.
If we repeal the $1.9 trillion worth of Republican tax cuts to the rich, we could do the whole thing again tomorrow. We as Americans choose what percentage of our nation will be kept in poverty, and adjust policies relentlessly to make sure those numbers stay where our policies demand they stay. We do not have to wait for half a million deaths to take action next time, or even next month. We know what to do, and we have proven we can do it.