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Megan Michaud is vice president of programs and policy at the Maine Center for Economic Policy.
As rising costs add financial pressure and the economy continues to reset from the shocks of the pandemic, all Mainers — whether they’re from Limestone, Lewiston, Près Isle or Portland — should have what they need to overcome these challenges.
Emergency relief during the initial months of the pandemic helped most families and workers survive the immediate crisis. But even before COVID-19 and inflation, the basics we all rely on to care for our families, including health care and child care, were too expensive for everyday Mainers. Now, wages have risen for many people, and unemployment is low, but with prices of everything from gas to groceries rising, we need our elected leaders to act so we don’t lose the ground we’ve gained.
Election seasons can heighten tensions while reducing legislative activity, but right now, before ads and mail pieces clutter our mailboxes and debates heat up, there’s a window for Congress to pass an economic package including commonsense and meaningful fixes to rising costs.
The bill should lower costs for prescriptions and health insurance, expand availability and lower the cost of child care, and help build the brightest future for the next generation by assisting parents with costs of raising kids.
It’s no secret that President Joe Biden and congressional leaders have had trouble striking a deal on legislation to help families make ends meet. But the need for them to overcome their differences is as dire as ever: many programs that helped families during the pandemic, like child tax credit payments, have expired. Others, like increased subsidies that helped millions afford health care during the worst public health crisis of our lifetime, will soon expire.
All of that adds up to a big hit for workers and families — particularly people who are forced to get by with low pay and people from communities that have been held back from opportunity and resources because of historic and ongoing discrimination — just when inflation is skyrocketing .
Some straightforward ideas will help and should be included. By making permanent the expanded Affordable Care Act premium tax credits that have already assisted millions of people buy affordable health insurance and capping the cost of insulin at $35, health care costs for individuals and states would be lowered. It will also prevent more than 60,000 Mainers from sticker shock — without this change, premiums for older Mainers could increase by thousands of dollars in 2023.
Addressing the massive shortage of child care would provide more options to get kids the care they need and make it easier for parents to work. Ensuring families with very low income get the child tax credit and restoring monthly payments would help families afford basics like food, rent and fuel at a time of rising costs.
What’s more, it can be paid for with popular policies like rolling back tax breaks for the wealthiest people and corporations and negotiating prescription drug savings. These measures could help reduce the deficit, too.
There’s an effort in Congress to pass an energy and climate bill aimed at lowering energy costs, creating jobs, and addressing the harm from climate change. These are laudable goals, but a climate and energy bill is not a replacement for an economic package that helps families afford the things they need. These priorities should not be pitted against each other. Congress must tackle our climate challenges and provide the targeted help workers and families need at the same time.
We came together throughout the pandemic to take care of each other, and while COVID-19 brought immense suffering, that spirit of solidarity helped us avoid even worse outcomes. Now we need to pull together again to maintain the ground we’ve recovered and build for the future. Affordable health care and cheaper prescription drugs. Child care that families can afford and help for the costs of raising a family. These are the foundations Mainers need to seize opportunities and thrive.