With costs rising, Pa. residents still need help from Washington and Harrisburg | Opinion

We came together during COVID-19 to take care of each other. Now’s not the time to stop doing it

(Capital-Star photo collage).

By Jeff Garis and Nick Pressley

Rising costs have made life harder for many families even as an energetic economy continues to create jobs and raise wages. We want everyone — Black, brown, white, native, and newcomer — to have the support they need to overcome these challenges and build on the momentum of our recovery.

During the worst of the pandemic, emergency relief helped most families and workers weather the crisis. But even before COVID and inflation, essentials such as health care and child care were too expensive for working people. Schools were not fully and equitably funded.

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And college was unaffordable for many while the burden of debt was high for those who could go. Now with the price of everything rising, we need our leaders at both the federal and state level to act so we don’t lose the ground we’ve gained.

Federal lawmakers have a chance to use a process known as “reconciliation” to bypass gridlock and pass an economic package that lowers costs for prescriptions and health insurance, expands and lowers the cost of child care, and helps put the next generation on an upward trajectory by assisting parents with the costs of raising kids.

What’s more, they can pay for it with popular policies like rolling back tax breaks for the wealthiest people and corporations and negotiating prescription drug savings.

In Pennsylvania, lawmakers should be using the accumulated surplus of more than $11 billion—created by the American Rescue Plan and the fast recovery—to fund our schools fairly and make college more affordable, to provide more support for families with low incomes and small businesses, to make child care more affordable, to help with high gasoline prices, and to raise the minimum wage.

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 us during the pandemic, like Child Tax Credit payments, have expired. Others, such as increased subsidies that helped millions afford health care during the worst public health crisis of our lifetime, will expire soon.

There are some straightforward, targeted policies that will help, all of which should be part of a commonsense economic legislation that helps lower costs for workers and families. They are ensuring people can get the health coverage they need and lowering health care costs for individuals and states by closing the Medicaid coverage gap, making permanent the expanded ACA premium tax credits that have already helped millions of people buy affordable health insurance, and capping the cost of insulin at $35; addressing the massive shortage of child care for families in all 50 states, which would provide more options to get kids the care they need and make it easier for parents to work; ensuring the lowest-income families can get the Child Tax Credit by making it fully refundable and restoring monthly payments, both of which would help families afford basics like food, housing, and fuel at a time of rising costs.

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Congress can pay for these policies in a sustainable way by rolling back provisions in the 2017 Tax Cuts to ensure that the wealthiest people and corporations can no longer avoid paying their fair share in taxes. Congress should also allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices, saving us money and making it easier for seniors to afford life-saving medicine. Savings from these measures could help reduce the deficit, too.

And in Pennsylvania, we also need Republicans to focus on the common good, not on giving tax cuts to wealthy corporations while continuing to let most of them pay nothing to the state. Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate should work with Gov. Tom Wolf by adding $1.5 billion to basic education funding with more funds going to schools that, historically, have been underfunded.

They also can help by:

  • passing the Nellie Bly scholarship program for higher education and workers training programs.
  • putting the minimum wage on a path to $15 per hour with automatic inflation adjustments.
  • giving more temporary help to small businesses and families with low incomes.
  • sending Pennsylvanians a rebate for high gas prices.

The temporary programs can be paid for with the accumulated surplus of more than $11 billion while our increased state revenues cover the ongoing programs. No tax increase is necessary to make it easier for all Pennsylvanians to thrive.

We came together during COVID-19 to take care of each other, and while the pandemic brought immense suffering, that spirit of solidarity helped us avoid even worse outcomes.

Now we need political leaders in Washington, D.C., and Harrisburg to come together again to maintain the ground we’ve recovered and build for the future.

The decisions they make in the next few weeks will tell us if they are on our side.

Jeff Garis and Nick Pressley are the directors of the 99% PA and We The People PA campaigns, both projects of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a progressive think-tank based in Harrisburg.

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Capital-Star Guest Contributor
Capital-Star Guest Contributor

The Pennsylvania Capital-Star welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation on how politics and public policy affects the day-to-day lives of people across the commonwealth.