Key moments in the civil rights movement have come up often in recent months, as the Biden administration came to critical moments to advance an equity-based agenda. The recent debate over extending the child tax credit, which was extended by one year Thursday is no exception.
Like a daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and one former assistant for the late senator, we are direct products of that time, able to situate ourselves on the periphery of some of the events now recounted in the history books.
For both of us, there is a special day in April 1967, a day that profoundly affected Kennedy’s life and ours, explaining to us why economic and social reforms must work in tandem.
As part of the war on poverty, Kennedy, a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Jobs, Labor and Poverty, toured the country, visit forgotten corners the Deep South, the “land of coal” and the Amerindian reservations that many legislators representing these regions had never visited.
That particular afternoon, Kennedy walked into a ruined cabin in Cleveland, Mississippi, to find a 20-month-old black boy scratching the dirt floor, looking for rice crumbs and cornbread.
The boy’s eyes were dull, his stomach swollen from malnutrition. Kennedy crouched down, stroking the boy’s face and hair and spoke to him softly, wiping the tears from his eyes as he left.
The day weighed heavily on Kennedy as he returned home to reunite with his 10 children amid a chaotic and filling evening meal.
âI just visited a part of our country where three families lived in a room the size of this one,â he told them. âYou have to help these children.
This plea went beyond a simple change in policy, although the trip to Delta ultimately resulted in the expansion of the federal food stamp experiment into a national program.
What Kennedy has come to see clearly through these trips is that America’s problems are intertwined by the threads of race and poverty. That the criminalization of the poor occurs during intersectional oppressions of race, class, gender.
More than half a century after his death, this criminalization is even more blatant in some ways, with neglected and exploited groups that gained visibility through the war on poverty and then pushed further to the margins.
The black homeownership rate – the greatest creator of wealth for middle-class families – is weaker today than when the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968.
During the Clinton era, the poorest Americans, including many low-income women and especially among communities of color, were deprived of help when Temporary Help for Needy Families replaced our only national cash assistance program.
In the 25 years since the gap between America’s rich and poor has only widened. This point is not just about disparities, but about a basic quality of life that should be offered to all of our citizens, a quality that has become tangible this year thanks to an expanded and improved child tax credit.
Living with very little money in our country is extremely difficult, exhausting for parents and destructive for the health and well-being of children.
Today, low-income children across the country face a chronic lack of access to both educational opportunities and quality health care. Growing up they are much more statistically likely to be arrested, imprisoned, sentenced to prison and killed by police. And when they try to vote for change, they are faced with barriers in the ballot box.
Until recently, the United States was the only industrialized country not to receive cash assistance for all children and their parents. As awareness of COVID-19 increased disproportionate effect On poor, black and Latin families, the congressional organization introduced the child tax credit into the US bailout law, providing a foundation of support for poorer children and families. Yet this “guarantee” is only expected to last until 2022, according to the $ 1.75 trillion framework. published proposal Thursday by the Democrats.
While the structure is in place for the child tax to be maintained on a permanent basis, new funds must be allocated beyond next year for the credit to be renewed. This is a critically important next step, which would finally provide a permanent basis of protection for low-income children.
Unemployed parents, previously reliant solely on food stamps under the Child Tax Credit could see their income nearly double in immediate cash that can be used for household needs, including rent payment in a difficult situation. In addition, the movement should reduce overall child poverty by an astonishing 40 percent.
As Congress finalizes this spending plan, it is up to all of us to continue pushing for permanent credit expansion and other bold economic and social reforms that address fairness and justice in a holistic manner. and ambitious rooted in civic engagement.
It means strengthening Medicare and Medicaid. Increase in minimum wage. Increase efforts on child care, housing, homelessness and work to end mass incarceration. Provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrant communities.
David White, the boy Kennedy met in Mississippi, is now a grown man in his fifties. He did not die of hunger, Kennedy biographer Ellen Meacham found it after nearly seven years of research. White live now in Greenville, Mississippi, where he recently worked as a cook in a restaurant and convenience store.
Still, he is aware of the sad reality that his life could have been filled with many more opportunities, such as a better chance to finish high school and find a more stable, well-paying job, if he wasn’t. born poor and black in America.
In our decades of human rights and social justice work, we have seen with our own eyes that all great societal changes occur not because governments or corporations have sought them out, but because people organized and voted, exploited their dreams of change and made them come true.
Today, thanks to a great racial calculation, the criminalization of poverty has accumulated a consciousness far from what it was before Ferguson and the death of George Floyd.
Like America’s problems, its solutions must come from a seamless pattern of legislation, red tape, litigation, and community action. We must work together to demand better, to fill in the remaining pieces of the puzzle.
We owe it to White and so many others who deserve a better chance than the fate they have received.
It’s not just Kennedy’s legacy. It’s all up to us.
Kerry Kennedy is President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. Peter Edelman is Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Law and Public Policy at Georgetown University Law Center.