What the American Rescue Plan Delivers for Women — And What We Still Need for a Lasting Economic Recovery

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) provides critical relief to working people and families suffering multiple and intersecting impacts from the pandemic, cutting all the more deeply for women of color due to inequities on the basis of race and gender. The women of color who have disproportionately lost jobs or have been made more vulnerable to COVID on the front lines will certainly benefit from direct financial relief as well as needed investments in cities and states and infrastructure on the brink of collapse, like child care.

When the pandemic first began, Women Employed — and many of our partners — made key policy recommendations to provide meaningful relief and lasting recovery. The American Rescue Plan delivers on many of those recommendations, and leaves work to be done to ensure an inclusive recovery that centers the very people who have been recognized as essential during this crisis — policies such as paid sick leave, paid family and medical leave, and a full and fair minimum wage.

What the American Rescue Plan Delivers:

WE’S Recommendation: Emergency funding to stabilize the child care system and save child care for millions of families.

The American Rescue Plan: In one of the most sweeping and meaningful provisions for working women, the ARP provides $40 billion in emergency relief for child care agencies and providers — $1.3 billion of which will go toward child care providers in Illinois. Investing in our childcare infrastructure will help providers cover business costs while also supporting more affordable childcare options and better compensation for early education professionals.

WE’S Recommendation: Additional stimulus checks to help families meet basic needs.

The American Rescue Plan: The ARP includes direct payment of $1,400, which is in addition to the $600 in supplemental payments included in the December 2020 relief bill. Nearly 85 percent of Illinois adults will be eligible for the full amount. In addition to stimulus checks, child tax credits and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) are expanded and enhanced, providing additional lifesaving assistance and promising to cut child poverty in half.

However, undocumented immigrants and immigrants who file their taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) are ineligible for the $1,400 stimulus payments. Given that ITIN holders are holding the frontline by working in the essential jobs that are helping us pull through the pandemic, it seems particularly unconscionable that they have been left out from the stimulus they so desperately need.

WE’s Recommendation: Federal relief funds to state and local governments.

The American Rescue Plan: Provides $350 billion in fiscal relief to states and local governments, with an estimated $13.2 billion allocated to Illinois, $1.8 billion of which is earmarked for the city of Chicago.

WE’s Recommendation: Extend and expand unemployment insurance benefits for the duration of the economic crisis to meet the needs presented by millions of lost jobs — with service industries like retail and hospitality decimated and the brunt borne by women and specifically women of color.

The American Rescue Plan: Extends unemployment insurance to September 6, 2021, including the additional $300 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, and expands unemployment assistance to those who are self-employed, gig workers, freelancers and others who would otherwise not regularly qualify for unemployment insurance.

WE’s Recommendation: Funding to help higher education institutions weather the disruption of the pandemic, as well as recommending an extension of critical student loan relief.

The American Rescue Plan: Provides almost $40 billion for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, at least half of which must be used for emergency financial aid grants to students, with $3 billion of that targeted at Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs); $1.3 billion overall will go towards Illinois colleges and universities. The ARP also stipulates that any student loan forgiveness will be tax-free through December 31, 2025.

WE supports the calls from many quarters for sustained relief for student loan borrowers through the cancellation of student loan debt. With women holding 2/3 of all student loan debt, and Black borrowers taking on average 20 years longer than their white counterparts to repay their loans, student debt has become a rock-solid barrier that prevents economic mobility and widens the racial and gender wealth gap.

The American Rescue Plan also provides important relief to homeowners and renters, small business relief, emergency broadband funds to address digital inequity, food assistance, support for equitable vaccine access, and support for human services including domestic violence and sexual assault programs facing increased need.

What Working People Still Need:

The employer tax credits for businesses providing paid leave included in the American Rescue Plan— while welcomed, particularly as they help small businesses — do not meet the magnitude of the enduring need for paid leave in the United States.

Working people who need it most are still faced with the impossible choice between their health and their jobs, weighing the risk of lost paychecks against their or loved ones’ illness. Too many of those workers are low-paid and Black and Latina women, who are at increased risk of contracting and dying from COVID. As advocates at the forefront of fighting for paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave in Illinois, Women Employed calls on Congress to continue their bold action by providing permanent and inclusive paid leave, which not only helps people stay in their jobs and take care of their families but also helps to stop the spread of illness in our communities.

Hand-in-hand with paid leave is the need for a full and fair minimum wage and an elimination of the sub-minimum tipped wage. No working person can survive on $7.25 an hour — nor the paltry $2.13 that is the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers. The sub-minimum wage is a legacy of slavery, and during a time when restaurant workers are seeing their tips decrease and harassment increase, we have to abolish this relic of disenfranchisement and marginalization.

We have often heard that we are “all in this together,” but if that is true, then our recovery will depend on all of us being included — with Black and brown women, who have been disproportionately impacted, at the center. Working people need to be protected and their economic security should be an utmost priority. This moment presents an invitation for transformation and the opportunity to correct long-standing inequities that the pandemic has made all the more visible. The American Rescue Plan is a significant historic step forward that deserves celebration. And it will take sustained, bold, and unwavering effort to ensure that we do, in fact, build back better. Stronger. Together.