White House unveils details of $1.8 trillion American Families Plan

The White House has spent the final days before going public with President Joe Biden’s American Families Plan making final tweaks. But with Biden making an address to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night, it’s time. The plan, designed to complement Biden’s American Jobs Plan, includes funding for priorities like national child care, prekindergarten, paid family leave, and tuition-free community college. It extends the child tax credit in the American Rescue Plan, which is expected to slash child poverty nearly in half, along with the child and dependent care tax credit and the earned income tax credit for childless workers.

In all, the plan adds four years of free education for every student—preschool for three- and four-year-olds, and community college—as well as investing in historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges or universities, and minority-serving institutions; adding Pell Grants; and “evidence-based strategies to strengthen completion and retention rates at community colleges and institutions that serve students from our most disadvantaged communities.” In addition to the added years of universal prekindergarten, the American Families Plan has $225 billion for child care for younger children, ensuring that no family would pay more than 7% of its income for child care and a $15 minimum wage for the desperately underpaid childcare workforce.

Biden’s plan also invests in teachers, including helping teachers obtain in-demand certifications, increasing scholarships for future teachers, teacher retention programs, and recruitment and retention of teachers of color. 

A paid family and medical leave provision “will provide workers up to $4,000 a month, with a minimum of two-thirds of average weekly wages replaced, rising to 80 percent for the lowest wage workers. We estimate this program will cost $225 billion over a decade,” the White House said in a fact sheet, noting that “Over 30 million workers, including 67 percent of low-wage workers, do not have access to a single paid sick day,” and that women and people of color are particularly affected.

The American Families Plan also extends the summer child nutrition expansion being put in place this summer through the American Rescue Plan, and expands school meal programs.

But while it will includes $200 billion for Affordable Care Act subsidies, the Biden administration is  reportedly planning a separate bill for other healthcare priorities. Congressional Democrats have pushed back, urging the White House to include health care in this package.

When Republicans ask how Biden plans to pay for the proposal, one of the answers will be raising taxes on rich people, including an increase on the capital gains tax for people who earn more than $1 million. There’s another plan for paying for it, though: collecting the taxes that are already owed but go unpaid. As much as $1 trillion in taxes isn’t collected every year, the head of the Internal Revenue Service recently estimated, as enforcement has lagged and the number of auditors on staff has dropped down to 1950s levels. (The U.S. population has close to doubled since the 1950s.)

The Biden administration is looking to increase the IRS budget by $80 billion over 10 years—and collect as much as an additional $700 billion in taxes over the same time period as a result. That’s not a tax increase. It’s just enforcement of the existing laws, and it would target wealthy people who are currently getting away with significant tax evasion. A recent National Bureau of Economic Research paper estimated that the top 1% of earners are underreporting more than one-fifth of their income, while audit rates for the group dropped from 8% to 2.5% between 2011 and 2017, and down to 1.6% in 2019. Meanwhile, audits for people earning under $25,000 dropped much less, from 1.2% in 2011 to 0.7% in 2017. 

It goes without saying that even if we assume the rich and the poor underreport their income at the same rates, there’s a lot more revenue to be gained from auditing the rich, whose underreporting is also much more likely to be a product of intentional strategies and high-powered accounting than of simple mistakes. That, however, makes it more complicated to audit rich people, and requires investments in staff and auditing capacity.

Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night will have limited attendance due to COVID-19 health guidelines. Additionally, the House is on recess and many Republicans are expected not to bother making the trip to Washington, D.C., for the event.