This statement should be attributed to Sara Goldrick-Rab and Carrie R. Welton.
April 29, 2021
This week, President Biden introduced the American Families Plan (AFP). This proposal clearly demonstrates the Biden Administration’s commitment to invest in workers, students, and families who have been decimated by the pandemic. The AFP provides much-needed support for #RealCollege students, and its proposals are closely aligned with the Hope Center’s 2021 federal policy agenda. These supports and investments could not be more urgent: the Hope Center’s most recent annual survey demonstrates that students are facing unprecedented financial hardship and basic needs insecurity. The challenges they face risk their educational success, our future workforce, and our nation’s economic recovery.
The American Families Plan would provide for free two-year public college and invest billions of dollars in proven supports to help #RealCollege students. These supports include emergency grant aid for basic needs, mental health supports, childcare, and other wraparound services that will help students stay enrolled and complete their degree or credential. The plan also calls for two years of two years of subsidized tuition for students from lower and middle-income families enrolled in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). Finally, it proposes major new investments in childcare and paid leave, universal Pre-K, nutrition programs, and seeks to expand the recently-increased Child Tax Credit as well as the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.
FREE COLLEGE, EXPANDED STUDENT SUPPORTS, AND INVESTMENTS IN HBCUS, TCUS, AND MSIS
The American Families Plan would invest $109 billion over the next 10 years in a federal-state partnership to make community college tuition-free. Students would be able to use the benefits for up to three years, benefitting part-time students and those who need more time to complete their degree.
This is a culmination of years of tireless advocacy and thought leadership from the Hope Center and its partners. Our founder, Sara Goldrick-Rab, has been instrumental in building the case for and the design of free community college, and both Goldrick-Rab and current Hope Center fellow Mark Huelsman were recognized by Politico magazine 2016 for their role in mainstreaming free college in the policy conversation. We applaud this game-changing investment in students and institutions that have been chronically underfunded and neglected.
It would also create a $62 billion grant program for states, tribal governments, and territories to provide to institutions that “invest in completion and retention activities at colleges and universities that serve high numbers of low-income students.” Crucially, these funds could be used for emergency grants to students to meet basic needs, as well as mental health services and childcare.
According to the 2021 #RealCollege Survey, these investments are desperately needed. Among those who received emergency aid, that aid went toward maintaining enrollment, paying for food, reducing stress, and caring for family. At two-year colleges, over three-quarters of emergency aid recipients said the funds helped them stay enrolled, afford educational materials, and reduced stress. Emergency aid, when distributed efficiently and equitably, can be a crucial tool in retention and completion efforts.
President Biden is also calling for a $39 billion program to subsidize two years of tuition for families earning under $125,000 that attend HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs, as well as $5 billion in institutional grants to these institutions. This builds on the $45 billion proposed to these institutions through the American Jobs Plan, released last month. The attention to our nation’s HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs is pivotal. These institutions are consistently underfunded yet serve students with fewer resources and higher levels of basic needs insecurity, and produce an overwhelming share of America’s underrepresented and minoritized graduates. Finally, President Biden calls for a $1,400 increase in the maximum Pell Grant as a first step in doubling the maximum award. This proposal would also make Title IV aid more inclusive and humane by extending Pell Grant eligibility to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.
SUPPORT FOR FAMILIES, CHILDREN, AND #REALCOLLEGE STUDENTS
The American Families Plan would cap the amount that low- and middle-income families must pay for high-quality childcare to 7 percent of their income. The proposal calls for $225 billion in childcare investments, which would result in costs being fully covered for the lowest income families, subsidies for families earning up to 150% of their state’s median income, and a $15 minimum wage for care workers.
President Biden’s blueprint also would eventually guarantee twelve weeks of paid parental, family, or personal leave and replace up to 80% of wages for those workers who take time to care for a child, a family member, or themselves.
The American Families Plan also invests $45 billion to expand nutrition supports to K-12 students beyond the school year, allowing low-income families with children eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch to purchase food during the summer months. $17 billion would be invested to expand free school meals for children in high-poverty school districts.
If fully made available to those enrolled in college, these are the types of investments that we need to support parenting-students, who face greater rates of basic needs insecurity (in particular housing insecurity). We believe Congress should build on these proposals and expand the National School Lunch Program to higher education and otherwise work to ensure that college students can take advantage of food and nutrition supports for their families. We also encourage Congress and the Administration to work toward a system of public benefits that guarantees no student goes hungry, by removing harmful restrictions that prevent college students from accessing SNAP benefits and making the SNAP student exemptions under the Consolidated Appropriations Act permanent.
Finally, the American Families Plan would extend the essential changes to the Child Tax Credit (CTC) made by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) in March. The ARP temporarily improved the CTC by increasing the amount of the credit, ensuring full refundability and extending eligibility to dependents aged 17, and making the credit a monthly payment instead of a one-time windfall at tax time. This plan would permanently expand the tax credit’s refundability and expand the other beneficial changes to at least 2025. In doing so, it would ensure that families who previously did not benefit from the CTC, which disproportionately included Black and Latinx families, will continue to do so, dramatically reducing child poverty in the process.
THE WORK AHEAD
The American Families Plan provides much-needed investments at a scale that is necessary for #RealCollege students and families. It is time we finally invest in making two-years of college free and available to all families, and pair that with the supports that we know work in helping students meet their needs so they can learn.
We encourage Congress to work with the Administration to enact these proposals, and ensure that investments in students and families are communicated and delivered as easily and equitably as possible, with minimal administrative burden. This plan is an investment in the students who have been underserved by our federal higher education and public benefit programs for too long, and pays critical attention to part-time students, parenting-students, and students of color. We encourage policymakers to build upon this proposal by investing in making federal emergency aid permanent for students, removing all barriers in public assistance programs for families enrolled in higher education, permanently expanding both the level and eligibility of SNAP benefits, and reforming funding formulas to ensure that the institutions enrolling part-time students are no longer underfunded and under-resourced.