COVID-19 Relief: The Down Payment America Needs

President Joe Biden signs the American Rescue Plan
President Joe Biden signs into law the historic American Rescue Plan Act on March 11, 2021. Photo: Doug Mills / CNP via ZUMA Wire

No country on earth possesses more wealth than America. And yet, despite our nation’s abundance, there is staggering inequality. The COVID-19 pandemic exploited that inequality, spreading illness among essential workers who couldn’t afford to miss a paycheck and in communities that people in power have neglected for generations.

From history, we know that when our country invests in equity, all our communities grow more resilient.

The American Rescue Plan Act approved last week by Congress and President Joe Biden is such an investment — a bold and comprehensive response to the immediate crises that is deeply informed by an understanding of their root causes. Even though most of the act’s benefits are temporary, they will have a material impact in the present and set important policy precedent for the future.

The full rescue plan contains far too many initiatives to mention. Here are just some of the key ways it would expand or strengthen coverage:

  • Help people without health insurance through their jobs afford coverage through Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces, such as Covered California.*
  • Encourage states to extend health coverage periods for people who have given birth and who are enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
  • Create significant new incentives for the dozen states that have not yet expanded their Medicaid program to low-income adults under the ACA.
  • Subsidize the entire cost of premiums for COBRA continuation coverage for workers who are laid off or whose hours are reduced.

These health care provisions build on effective state policies that are operating in California with support from the state’s general fund. The federal dollars that California will receive through the rescue plan should allow the state to redirect more of its own resources to meet remaining challenges around health care coverage, affordability, and access.

The American Rescue Plan Act will also improve the nation’s well-being by using a supercharged child tax credit to invest directly in low-income families with children. Because of the way it is designed, the expanded tax credit is projected to cut child poverty by half in California and nationwide. In doing so, it will give millions of families more control over the social factors that impact a child’s health.

By enhancing the stability and security that families need to stay healthy, the rescue plan has the potential to create positive, near-term impacts on a far-reaching scale. After a horrible year of COVID-19 failures in America, the time to start making things right is right now. The American Rescue Plan Act is the down payment we need.

I serve on Covered California’s board of directors.