Reclaiming the People’s Power in a ‘Lost’ Year

Homemade Sign at Political Rally

As we have marked a year since COVID shutdowns began across the country, there have rightfully been reflections on all that was lost, both individually and collectively. But for all that was lost over the past year, it is equally important to remember what was reclaimed–and that is the power of the people.

In the summer of 2020, we were reminded of the power of the people who peacefully assembled to protest disproportionate and indefensible levels of police violence against Black people in this country.

In the fall of 2020, we were reminded of the power of the people when voters turned out in record numbers in the presidential election to chart a new course toward unity and healing.

In the winter of 2021, we were reminded of the power of the people when voters in Georgia sent two senators to Washington who pledged to fight for justice and much-needed relief amid this crisis.

Because of these demonstrations of power, the people are making progress. In addition to the early executive orders signed by President Biden on matters of racial equity, there is also some hope that the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act may have a path to passage. And yesterday, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law, widely considered to be the most progressive piece of legislation–in size and scope–in generations. Provisions in the bill to expand the Child Tax Credit (CTC) are alone projected to decrease child poverty rates by 45 percent. Should these expansions survive beyond this year, it would lead to a significant long-term reduction in child poverty.

An analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy shows that alongside the CTC expansion, the additional relief measures of an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and $1,400 cash payments will boost income boost by 11 percent on average for the bottom 60 percent of Americans, and 33 percent on average for the poorest 20 percent of Americans. After decades of policies driven by the misguided theory that the wealthy’s coffers will eventually spillover to the rest of us, the American Rescue Plan is a welcome departure.

Figure 1

Figure 2 shows precisely how much of a departure the American Rescue Plan is from the tax policies of prior administrations. When considering the combination of relief payments and expansions to the CTC and EITC, Americans with incomes in the bottom 60 percent are receiving 64 percent of the tax benefits from the American Rescue Plan. This is in stark contrast to the tax policies of the previous 20 years where major legislation has directed 65 percent of the benefits to the top 20 percent of incomes, and 22 percent of benefits to the richest 1 percent.

Figure 2

So, as we mark the passage of The American Rescue Plan and the good it will do for so many people across this country, it is important to remember this: While the devastation the American people have endured over the past year made this bill necessary, it is the power of the people that formed in response that made this bill possible. And, if the American people keep that same energy–that pandemic year power to the people energy–even greater progressive policy change is possible.

Tax Takes from Citizens for Tax Justice here. CTJ is a partner in the movement for transformative change. Find out more at http://ctj.org