Commentary

For Latinos, Build Back Better provides transformational change — and hope

December 14, 2021 3:53 pm

Photo by Aldo Murillo | Getty Images

Even in its scaled-back form, President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act offers nothing less than transformational change for the American people — but even more so for Latinos in Arizona and nationwide.

The bill’s roughly $2 trillion investment in our nation’s “human infrastructure” will better the lives of millions of Latino families, a major segment of whom are still struggling to get back on their feet in the face of the unrelenting global pandemic.

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Biden’s historic legislation, now under consideration in the U.S. Senate, includes funding for affordable health care, nutrition programs and universal pre-kindergarten. Only 19% of Arizona children are in a quality early learning program and full-day kindergarten remains unfunded by the Arizona Legislature. 

The bill also includes a desperately needed extension of a child tax credit that has already lifted an estimated 3 million children out of poverty. Even better, the proposed tax credit extension restores the eligibility of immigrant children, most of whom are Latino, as long as their undocumented parents pay federal income taxes via an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).

The Build Back Better Act provides hundreds of billions for affordable housing, paid family medical leave, and home and community-based care for seniors and people with disabilities, as well as long-awaited authorization for federal officials to negotiate lower prescription drug prices are also part of the package.

Critical to Latinos are the bill’s systemic immigration reforms, including resources to trim the massive backlogs of applications for U.S. citizenship and green cards providing permanent legal residency. Nearly seven million undocumented immigrants could earn work permits and up to a decade of protections from deportation under the legislation, and applications for asylum-seekers would be expedited by the reforms.

While virtually every segment of U.S. society would gain from the bill, major swaths of the nation’s 61 million Latinos, and especially Latino children, would benefit.

One in four children in the U.S. is Latino, but they make up about 40% of children living in poverty. The bill’s child tax credit and money to help families cover the cost of childcare — Arizona has lost nearly 20% of its child care providers during the pandemic — would go a long way to boosting their standard of living.

There’s $500 billion in the bill for resources to address the worsening climate crisis. Who benefits most from comprehensive and inclusive environmental protections? People of color, including low-income Latino families trapped in communities where polluting industries routinely operate in or near their neighborhoods. Drive through South and West Phoenix if you want to witness this damaging and unhealthy phenomenon in real time.

The bill’s boost in college Pell grants, which help millions pursue degrees that lead to good jobs, would advance Latino education goals. Nearly half of Arizona schoolchildren are Latino, and their job prospects depend on our ability to provide them a quality K-thru-college education.

But for all the good it offers, the bill has its shortcomings. 

The American people would be far better served by a permanent extension of the child tax credit, the reinstatement of Biden’s pledge to cover two years of community college tuition and twelve instead of only four weeks of paid family medical leave.

A painful lesson of the pandemic-induced recession has been the damage done to families’ livelihoods because of a lack of paid leave.

While many Americans have returned to work this year, millions of women, including Latinas, remain unemployed for a range of reasons, including the widespread lack of affordable childcare and paid leave. Fewer than half of all Latino workers have access to paid leave, and the “2021 UnidosUS Latina Wealth Project” found that 15% of Hispanic women reported returning to work ill during the pandemic because they did not have any sick leave benefits.

The push to get the Build Back Better Act to the finish line will be anything but easy, but it’s worth noting that Arizona’s U.S. Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly are in a position to help make this bill happen thanks in part to the massive surge over the past decade in Latino voter registration and participation.

Some 800,000 Latinos turn voting age every year, according to the Southwest Voter Researcher, and groups like UnidosUS, Voto Latino and others have pledged to recruit millions more Latino voters in the coming election cycles.

Arizona represents the future of our nation and Latino voters now play a critical role in determining who gets into Congress, the White House, and the governor’s office.

It’s with that in mind that UnidosUS, UnidosUS Action Fund and our allies will work tirelessly in the coming weeks to ensure the Build Back Better Act addresses the needs of the whole of American society, including our country’s diverse and rapidly growing Latino community.

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Elizabeth Salazar
Elizabeth Salazar

Elizabeth Salazar is Arizona director for the UnidosUS Action Fund, the advocacy organization of UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Latino Civil Rights organization.

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