by Heather Peeler
If you’re like me, you’ve often wondered what we can do to successfully address poverty in our community. We have so many great organizations; smart, creative, capable people; and resources. Why has it been so hard to move the needle?
In the coming year, we have a chance to make an unprecedented investment in the economic security and mobility of our low-income neighbors and learn about what works.
Last week, thanks to the expansion of the child tax credit through the American Rescue Plan Act, thousands of Alexandrians began receiving the first monthly payment of either $250 or $300 per child. Families and individuals will automatically start receiving the payment based on their 2020 federal tax filing. (If you did not submit income taxes last year, you can still enroll for the program here: https://www.irs.gov/credits-deductions/child-tax-credit-non-filer-sign-up-tool)
This new program will help thousands of families who are struggling to make ends meet. Experts anticipate that the program has the potential to cut the child poverty rate in Virginia from 14.2% to 9.5%. This is significant for our community. According to Venture Philanthropy Partners, 25% of children in the City of Alexandria are in poverty.
The data is clear – intergenerational poverty is not the result of individuals making bad decisions. It’s the result of the complex interaction of systems, policies, and racism that makes the American dream unattainable for many. Thus to address poverty, we need to deploy a range of solutions that give families a seat at the table and that build upon our collective strengths and know-how.
The tax credit expansion is one of several initiatives in Alexandria designed to help families move up the economic ladder. The Alexandria City Council recently approved several new programs that invest in our low-income neighbors, including a guaranteed basic income pilot that will benefit 150 working families, job training programs, childcare, and rental assistance.
Research from the SEED demonstration program in Stockton CA and the Magnolia Mother’s Trust in Jackson MS show that when families are given regular, supplemental income, they make decisions that advance their families’ financial security. In addition, because the program participants spent supplemental income on basic needs (like food, transportation, and childcare) programs that provide direct financial assistance to low-income people boost the local economy. Think of it as “trickle-up” economics. Our work in Alexandria will add to our collective knowledge about effective strategies and programs.
The Alexandria Resilience Fund was created to respond to the urgent hardship brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now as we move to a phase focused on rebuilding, we have an opportunity to invest in solutions that will build a better future for all. The projects funded by City Council and the American Rescue plan are only the tip of the iceberg. Let me know what ideas you have about investments that will result in true economic opportunity for everyone.
The prosperity of our community depends on our collective ability to move forward.