A Revolutionary Plan for Santa Barbara’s Children

By Laura Capps   |   March 20, 2021

There’s a lot that has me optimistic these days: the declining case rates of COVID, millions of people getting vaccinated, kids safely returning to the classroom and a return to competency from the White House. One of many positive developments that will have massive ramifications is the inclusion of the child benefit in the COVID stimulus bill. As The New York Times described it, “the child benefit has the makings of a policy revolution.” As Biden would say, it’s a B.F.D. 

Poverty has such a grip on our society, yet it is a problem that is solvable. Our county has the 2nd highest rate of poverty in the state, and California has the highest rate of poverty in the nation. As others have said, poverty is a policy choice and we must choose differently. Tried and true solutions, like the Earned Income Tax Credit that give cash to low-income workers, have provided financial security for millions of people over decades. For years, progressive lawmakers like Congressmember Rosa DeLauro have championed another powerful anti-poverty tool: the child tax credit. And now – finally now – after President Biden signed this into law, it will soon become a reality. 

The Biden White House is proud to highlight projections that this benefit will cut child poverty nearly in half (45%) for all children. That is a sentence worth repeating. If child poverty is cut nearly in half, it will indeed be revolutionary. The impacts will be colossal for generations to come.  

Here’s how the child benefit will work. Based on an income threshold of $150,000 per year or less, most parents across the country (96%) will begin receiving a monthly check of up to $300 per child. The more children a family has, the more guaranteed monthly income. While the funds are intended to help with basic needs, such as food, housing, healthcare, transportation, and education, there are no restrictions as to how it can be spent. 

The plan represents a major policy departure from decades of bipartisan resistance, beginning with my former boss President Clinton, to cash “hand-outs” like so many other countries provide, with successful results. (Remarkably, Republican Senator Mitt Romney has a proposal for an even larger child benefit.) The concept is akin to social security, which had and continues to have game-changing positive effects on the lives of our country’s seniors. It’s about time we did the same for children and families. 

The Impact of Poverty

One of many reasons for the broad support for this plan is the proliferation of science about the damaging impact that even a short time in poverty can have for decades on a person’s life. We now know even more about the long-term ramifications of what is termed Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s), the traumatic experiences that happen to a child. These early experiences, including poverty, abuse, divorce, and mental illness, have been scientifically linked to a variety of adult conditions beyond economic status, ranging from depression to heart diseases. Fortunately, we also know more about the tools that mitigate this trauma, including support at school, targeted programs, and policies such as financial assistance.

It is exciting to think of what this will mean for Santa Barbara County, especially our children. The most recent available data shows that prior to COVID, our county had a poverty rate of about 20%, second only to Los Angeles County. According to kidsdata.org, we have about 100,000 children (17 and under) in this county, one out of five of whom live below the federal poverty line. Amongst children in our county public schools, 13 percent are homeless. COVID has only made these conditions worsen and the problem of poverty in Santa Barbara County all the more urgent. 

Yet here is the good news: if our county follows the national projections of this benefit, that means this year approximately 10,000 of Santa Barbara’s children will be given a lifeline out of poverty, impacting their future trajectory. In addition, tens of thousands of low- and medium-income children will have more financial resources to rely on for basic needs and fulfilling opportunities. The potential of what up to $300 a month per child can do is incredible: keeping food on the table, starting a college fund, paying down debt, buying needed clothing, hiring a tutor, or signing your child up for music lessons.

I firmly believe that what is good for our children is what is good for our entire county. And the revolutionary potential of the child tax benefit will mean more stable home environments, more learning opportunities, better health, and stronger children – and a more thriving community. When President Biden signed the COVID relief bill into law, he and our leaders in Congress gave a life-changing boost to all our children and us all.

Laura Capps is a board member of the Santa Barbara Unified School District and Golden State Opportunity, an anti-poverty organization. 


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