1

Viewpoint: Congress must act soon to help families

Health O’Loughlin

As rising costs add pressure to families and the economy continues to recover from the shocks of the pandemic, we want everyone — Black, Brown, white, and Indigenous — to have what they need to overcome these challenges and build on the momentum of our recovery. 

During the lowest point of the pandemic, emergency relief helped families and workers survive the crisis, but even before COVID and inflation, the basics we all rely on, including health care and childcare, were out of reach for too many people.  

Partisan gridlock can stop even the most common-sense ideas from getting through Congress. Still, lawmakers can use a process known as “reconciliation” to bypass the gridlock and pass an economic package to help families, workers, and businesses, by easing the costs of health care and childcare. What’s more, Congress can pay for it with popular policies like rolling back tax breaks for the wealthiest and corporations and negotiating prescription drug savings. 

This might be Congress’s last and best opportunity to deliver for Montanans, and we need Montana’s congressional delegation to get the job done now. 

It’s no secret that congressional leaders have had trouble striking a deal on legislation to help families make ends meet. But the need for them to overcome their differences is dire. Many programs that helped people during the pandemic, like Child Tax Credit payments, have expired. Others, like increased subsidies that helped millions afford health care during the worst public health crisis of our lifetime, will expire soon.

All of that adds up to a big hit for workers and families just when inflation, child care costs, and housing prices are skyrocketing. This is especially true for those forced to get by on low pay and Black and Indigenous communities held back from opportunity and resources because of historic and ongoing discrimination.

There are some straightforward, targeted policies that will help, all of which should be part of common-sense economic legislation that lowers costs for workers and families. They are:

  • Ensuring people can get health coverage, including making permanent the expanded ACA premium tax credits that have helped millions of people afford health insurance and capping the cost of insulin at $35.
  • Addressing the massive child care shortage so it’s easier for parents to work and for businesses to keep and retain employees. 
  • Ensuring the lowest-income families can get the Child Tax Credit and restoring monthly payments, so families can afford basics like food, rent, and fuel at a time of rising costs. 

Congress can sustainably pay for these foundational things by rolling back the 2017 tax cut provisions that rigged our tax code and ensuring the wealthiest people and corporations can no longer avoid paying their fair share in taxes. Congress should also allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices, saving us money and making it easier for seniors to afford life-saving medicine. Savings from these measures could help reduce the deficit, too.

Improved and more affordable health care. Cheaper prescription drugs. Accessible and affordable child care. Help for families facing rising costs. These are the foundations Montana families need.

We came together during COVID to take care of each other, and while the pandemic brought immense suffering, that spirit of solidarity helped us avoid even worse outcomes. Now we need to pull together again to maintain the ground we’ve recovered and build for the future.

Heather O’Loughlin is the Co-Director of the Montana Budget & Policy Center – a nonprofit organization focused on research and advancement of public policies that help families living on low incomes.