Imagine a Maine family with two parents and two kids who are too young for school.

Both parents work full time, making $15 an hour. Their combined annual income of $62,400 puts them above the median Maine household, but not by much.

House payments, car payments, day care and groceries will eat up most of what they bring home, and don’t leave much, if anything, to save for retirement or college. If they have a health crisis or even a major auto repair, they could be facing bankruptcy.

This is the kind of family that gets a lot of attention in political campaigns but not much when policy is made – until now.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress last week is known as a COVID relief bill, but it’s also an economic anxiety relief bill, too. Working-class families who make too much for need-based programs but not enough to benefit from tax cuts are finally going to get some attention.

Under the plan, pushed through Congress without a single Republican vote and signed by President Biden on Thursday, a median-income Maine family can expect some real relief.


For starters, each of the parents would receive $1,400 stimulus checks. Then they would be eligible for a tax credit of $3,600 for each child 5 years old or younger.

In the past, the child credit was applied to taxes owed, so the lower your income, the less you benefited. But this version is fully refundable, so parents get the full credit even if they don’t owe any taxes. And instead of waiting until they file for 2021, the government will begin sending out the credit in monthly payments, starting later this year.

On those two programs alone, this family will have $10,000 more to spend and save this year. It would be like getting a 16 percent raise at work, an extra $192 a week.

We have seen the government bail out banks. We have seen it bail out airlines and automakers, and we have been told that everyone will benefit by preventing big businesses from collapsing. But bailing out families is something new.

Like everything else in our politics, the Rescue Act has been controversial. It made it through Congress without a single Republican vote.

Critics say it’s too big, that it’s unnecessary and it’s just a Democratic wish list that has nothing to do with COVID. They are wrong across the board.


The Rescue Act offers help to the millions of people who are still out of work because of the pandemic and it targets money for the restaurant industry and other businesses that have been devastated by a lack of business. It also puts money into fully reopening schools and addressing the long-term costs of what has been a lost year of education for many students because of the COVID disruption.

There are 9.5 million fewer jobs now than there were at the start of 2020. It will take years of steady growth to get back to the pre-pandemic level of employment, let alone make up for the lost growth since the coronavirus started to spread. If the government doesn’t pick up the slack, people will suffer.

The COVID pandemic has exposed how unequal our society is, and how precarious life is for most people. Even with historically low unemployment before the pandemic hit, millions of families were barely making enough to cover basic needs, and were unprepared for an emergency. Struggling families should not be forgotten just because they were already struggling before the virus hit.

The stress they are under in the best of times was intensified by the pandemic. Falling into poverty, even for a short time, can affect a child’s development, affecting their health and well-being for rest of their lives. Through various provisions, the Rescue Act is projected to cut child poverty in half, including an estimated 10,000 children in Maine. That’s a pretty good thing for everyone to have on their wish list.

Republicans, and 2nd District Rep. Jared Golden, the only Democrat in either body to vote against the bill, were wrong to oppose this, but they have not missed their chance to do the right thing.

The tax credits are temporary and will expire next year. Congress will have to act if it wants to continue helping these families and establish a secure middle class.

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