U.S. Democrats push to make COVID-19 relief bill aid to the poor permanent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Democrats will push to make permanent two provisions of President Joe Biden's COVID-19 relief bill that provide emergency enhanced benefits for the poor through food assistance and child tax credits, two leading lawmakers said on Sunday.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that making enhanced child tax credits permanent is an important goal for Democrats, as they seek to move forward with bold new initiatives that also include legislation to upgrade U.S. infrastructure.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Schumer's fellow New York Democrat, called separately for enhancements for a nutrition program aimed at women, infants and children in the $1.9 trillion bill to be extended indefinitely.
Biden's legislation temporarily increased the value of the program's cash vouchers for fruits and vegetables from $9 per month for children and $11 for women to $35 per month for both.
The bill also expands the U.S. federal child tax credit for one year from a partially refundable $2,000 per child to a fully refundable $3,600 credit for children under 6 and $3,000 for children aged 6 to 17, a move that experts say will significantly decrease child poverty in the United States.
"That's one of the most important things we can do. We can change America, if we make them permanent," Schumer told MSNBC. "It will be so good for these kids, their families, but for all of America and our economy."
Nearly 11 million, or one in seven, U.S. children live in poverty, the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, estimates.
Making the provisions permanent could prove difficult, with many Republicans opposed to any expansion in U.S. welfare services that is not accompanied by work requirements for benefit recipients.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives can pass legislation on a simple majority and has begun to move bills that reflect party priorities such as police reform, gun control and measures to enhance voter participation. But the 100-seat Senate, which is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, requires 60 votes for most legislation.
Schumer said Democrats would try to work with Republicans to enact "bold change" but warned that his caucus would consider other means, including possible changes to Senate rules, if Republicans continue to oppose Democratic legislation.
"But if we can't, if they vote 'no' on everything in terms of the kinds of change that America needs, then our caucus will have to get together and figure out how to get it done," Schumer said. "Everything will be on the table and failure is not an option."
Biden's COVID-19 bill passed the House and Senate without support from a single Republican.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Heather Timmons and Daniel Wallis)