In this July 15, 2021, file photo President Joe Biden speaks during an event to mark the start of monthly Child Tax Credit relief payments, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington. Credit: Evan Vucci / AP

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Deborah Ibonwa is a policy and legal advocate for Maine Equal Justice. Lado Ladoka is a member of the Maine Immigrant Housing Coalition.

“Less anxiety about making ends meet means more eye contact with my children when I get home from work. What more could I say?” That’s the difference the expanded child tax credit has made for Andrea, a mom from Farmingdale.

The credit provides up to $300 per child, per month, and it’s already changing the lives of thousands of Maine kids.

What more can we say? If anything good has come from the pandemic, it is that we better understand the problems we face, and the ways to solve them. Last year, we saw families one step from the edge of economic disaster, a housing affordability crisis, gaps in the healthcare system, and persistent hunger. But Congress and President Joe Biden provided more support: income, food, housing, and unemployment insurance, keeping families like Andrea’s afloat, and preventing 53 million people from falling below the poverty line.

Now Congress has an opportunity to pass Build Back Better, legislation that would build on the support provided during the pandemic that has been such a lifeline. The bill would make critical investments in health care, food security, child care and paid leave, and a lot more. Two parts of the plan — making safe and affordable homes available to thousands more Mainers, and making the child tax credit permanent — would by themselves transform the lives of thousands of Maine families.

The child tax credit is one of the most effective anti-poverty measures of our lifetimes, but it will expire in a few months unless Congress extends it. It’s expected to cut Maine’s child poverty rate nearly in half and benefit 91 percent of all kids in our state, up to $3,600 per child. Just one and a half months after the federal government began issuing monthly payments, the number of parents and caregivers who said their household was hungry fell by nearly one-third. Families have already been using the extra money to cover costs for essentials like groceries, clothes, school supplies, child care, car repairs and more (those who haven’t received their payments can file at www.getCTC.org/MEJ).

Another critical part of the bill would address housing affordability in Maine. The waitlist for a Section 8 housing voucher in Maine has around 25,000 families on it, and getting to the top of the list takes years. Avesta Housing recently reported that over 11,000 seniors are on the waitlist for their senior housing across Maine. In addition, the National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that Maine has a shortage of 21,015 rental homes for extremely low-income members of our community.

Maine’s existing affordable housing stock is also in jeopardy. The government-backed mortgages that fund Maine’s rural rental assistance programs will expire in the next few years, and Maine stands to lose 6,200 affordable units in rural parts of the state if the owners convert them to market-rate apartments.  

The emergency rental assistance program has helped thousands of Mainers cover rent and utilities during the pandemic, but it will end in 2024. We need permanent housing solutions and more federal support, including more housing vouchers, more affordable housing stock, and funds to protect existing affordable units.

Build Back Better would significantly boost Housing Choice Vouchers, improving housing affordability in Maine and the lives of thousands of Mainers as well as expanding housing voucher availability to 4,000 Mainers. It would also provide Maine with an estimated $114 million for its Housing Trust Fund to promote the construction of affordable rental housing and invest historic amounts to improve existing affordable housing programs throughout Maine.

We call on our congressional delegation to support Build Back Better without delay. As a country, it’s time for us to do the things we know will allow more parents to meet their kids’ eyes after a long day at work. We are a wealthy nation with the resources to afford solutions. Let’s get it done.