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Here’s What Parents Won (and Lost Big On) in Biden’s Build Back Better Plan

Child care and universal pre-k are funded. Paid leave, however?

Today, the Biden administration released a $1.85 trillion framework that is a significantly pared-back version of the Build Back Better agenda, the initial proposal for which had a price tag of $3.5 trillion.

If passed, though the package has been cut significantly, it would still represent a historic investment in climate resiliency, education, healthcare, and immigration. At the same time, what has been cut from the plan — namely, paid leave and some other social spending programs — will leave American parents, who have been crushed by a pandemic and the crashing out of child care and who are alone among wealthy nations in not having access to a government-funded paid leave plan — in the dust. In other words, there are some wins, and for parents, there are significant losses.

Here’s what you need to know about what is and isn’t in the framework, the implications for American families if the bill passes, and whether or not that actually seems likely to happen.

What’s in the new framework?

Biden will be making the rounds on Capitol Hill and delivering a speech from the White House today to drum up support for the framework from legislators and the public. Ahead of that effort, the White House released a statement detailing what’s in the package.

The great news for parents is largely about child care and the child tax credit. 

  • Two years of universal pre-kindergarten, with enough funding for six years
  • Childcare will capped at 7 percent of income for families making up to 250 percent of their state’s median income, funded for six years
  • Child tax credit with monthly payments for households earning up to $150,000 per year, funded for one year (with refundability made permanent)

“This will be the most transformative investment in children and early education in generations… Build Back Better’s provisions will lower child care costs for nine out of ten families with young children in the United States while improving the quality of the early education they receive, raising wages and covering the costs associated with higher quality care,” Julie Kashen, the Century Foundation’s Senior Fellow and Director of Women’s Economic Justice said in a statement about the plan.

On climate change, the framework includes:

  • $320 billion in clean energy tax credits
  • $105 billion in resilience investments to address extreme weather and legacy pollution and to establish a Civilian Climate Corps
  • $110 billion for clean energy tech, manufacturing, and supply chain improvements
  • $20 billion for clean energy procurement, next-generation technologies like clean construction materials and long-duration energy storage

The framework also includes other investments in the social safety net, such as:

  • $150 billion in housing affordability programs
  • Boosts to Pell grants, money for minority-focused institutions of higher education, and workforce development programs
  • One year extension of the earned income tax credit for low wage workers

There’s also a promise to “improve our immigration system consistent with the Senate’s reconciliation rules.”

To pay for these measures, the White House is proposing establishing a corporate minimum tax, charging a surcharge on stock buybacks, charging a penalty rate for outsourcing jobs, increasing tax revenues from the richest Americans, and investing in IRS enforcement. (That billionaire tax seems to be dead for now.)

What isn’t in the framework?

The biggest omission from this framework is paid family and medical leave, full stop. The United States is still nearly alone in being one of the wealthiest nations in the world without a paid leave program, of even several weeks, for giving birth, bringing home a baby, or having a sick family member. It was a foundational campaign promise of Biden’s, something that Democrats have been promising for years, and an exceedingly popular policy among Democrats and Republicans. And yet, it’s not in this framework, largely thanks to the objection of Joe Manchin. This is a massive disappointment for working people — and in particular, women of color, who are less likely to work jobs with paid leave benefits — who have struggled to make ends meet while taking care of their children, family members, and chosen family.

“The omission of paid family and medical leave from a package aiming to Build Back Better from a global pandemic and care crisis would be a devastating outcome for the millions of workers who are being asked to choose between their health, paychecks and caregiving every day. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pass a national paid leave program at the moment when American families need it most. We ask our leaders to not turn a blind eye to the reality that workers — disproportionately women and women of color, in particular — are facing,” Paid Leave for All said in a statement about the plan.

The framework is also missing any kind of prescription drug price negotiation provision, a policy that the Democrats ran on when they took control of Congress in 2006 (!). According to Politico, Senator Kyrsten Sinema reached a deal on such a provision with Biden that didn’t make it into the framework. If they fail to give the government the power to negotiate prices, many patients, parents, and their children will continue to struggle to afford, and even be forced to ration, the lifesaving medicine they need while drug company profits remain protected.

Biden also initially promised two free years of community college for all Americans, a policy that is sadly nowhere to be found in this latest framework.

And beyond these omissions, much of what made it into the framework is watered down from what was initially proposed. A permanent (or at least long-term) extension of the child tax credit became a one-year extension. The childcare cap now has an onerous work requirement that will prevent many of those who need it most from accessing the benefit.

And on the pay-for side, the billionaire tax proposed by Senator Ron Wyden and increases to the corporate and top individual tax rates are also nowhere to be found.

What happens now? Will it pass?

It isn’t over until it passes. The Biden administration significantly did not announce that this framework had the support of the entire Democratic caucus in the Senate, which means that Manchin or Sinema could still oppose it from the right for being too generous or a progressive senator could oppose it from the left in an effort to push the Biden administration to add some of what it cut, like paid leave.

The bottom line is that this framework would do a lot of good if it were passed, but that it falls far short both of what voters were promised and what needs to happen to make living and parenting in the United States something better than the incredibly stressful, incredibly expensive experience it is now.