The Lives Hanging in the Balance of Build Back Better

As 2021 races to a close, President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party’s entire domestic agenda hangs in the balance. Biden and Democratic lawmakers have been hard at work putting together a massive legislative package to address a number of key priorities, including health care, housing, caregiving, education, and climate change. But with Republicans marching in lockstep against it, Democrats can only pass the Build Back Better agenda on their own, requiring that every member vote in favor.

The House has passed its version of the legislation, but in the Senate some conservative Democrats have said that they would refuse to vote for the plan unless it’s smaller and cheaper (even as they’ve also resisted provisions in the bill that would raise revenue, such as a higher corporate tax rate and tougher IRS enforcement for the wealthy) and even proposed slowing the whole process down. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer has vowed to get it passed before Christmas, but it’s still unclear if the party can meet that tight deadline.

As lawmakers negotiate, millions of Americans’ finances and lives are at stake. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin has stood staunchly against including paid family leave, while demanding that expanded monthly Child Tax Credits, enacted earlier this year by Democrats, be seriously whittled down or removed entirely. Other key policy areas, such as funding for housing and home health care, have been cut in half or more from what President Biden initially proposed. But these policies, if put into effect in a substantial way, would mean significant, concrete changes for people struggling with serious needs. These are just a few stories of those whose lives stand to be transformed if Congress finally acts once and for all.

The Child Tax Credit

Guadalupe De la Cruz has been an advocate for farmworker rights and labor rights in Florida for a decade. It’s a calling with deep roots in her own family: Her parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico, and both worked in agriculture; to this day her mother works at a greenhouse. Her work “has a real personal connection to my own personal life,” she said. “I’m advocating for my parents, and advocating for the rights that for many years my parents were denied.”

But despite her passion for the work, her salaries at nonprofits have always been low. De la Cruz is a single mother raising a seven-year-old daughter. Despite having a full-time job, she lives paycheck-to-paycheck. “It has been a struggle for a while,” she said. There are times when it’s hard to make rent, and her lights have sometimes been shut off because of lack of payment. She tries to hide her tight finances from her daughter, but there have been times when she’s had to tell her she couldn’t buy her something she wanted or needed.

Even today, her income still goes directly to bills—the rent, the utilities, her car payment, her car insurance—leaving nothing extra to help her save. “I’m not prepared at all for an emergency, should it happen,” she said. “You want to have some kind of security net built up for yourself and your child.” But it’s impossible on her income.

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