The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and families has been seismic. In a society held up almost entirely by the childcare and education sectors, both of which allow families to work and provide high-quality learning settings for their children, any opportunity to allocate additional resources and supports to our nation’s youngest learners and their families should not only be welcomed in a moment of crisis — it should be the norm in all circumstances.

That’s why, when the Biden-Harris administration made it clear in early 2021 that any future COVID-19 relief legislation must set the nation on a path to build back better, we knew supports for children and families must be at the heart of this effort.

Fast forward a few weeks: Congress has cleared and the President signed a $1.9 trillion dollar investment that not only provides critical resources for the childcare and education sectors, but also invests in a host of other programs and services that many experts predict will cut the childhood poverty rate in half and help families in need.

This bill reflects growing support for a more robust investment in high-quality early childcare and learning across the country. It bolsters funding for programs that support strong, healthy families. It provides $39 billion in relief for childcare, including nearly $15 billion through the Child Care and Development Block Grant, thereby expanding access to childcare for families with low incomes. Funding also goes toward a stabilization fund for childcare providers, who are disproportionately women of color and among the lowest-paid workers in the nation. It increases funding for home-visiting programs that promote healthy development for pregnant people and families with young children. It also includes an expanded, fully-refundable Child Tax Credit that is projected to lift nearly 10 million children above or closer to the poverty line, including 2.3 million Black children and 4.1 million Latino children.

The pandemic has also caused food insecurity to skyrocket, particularly among families of color with children. This bill builds upon important investments and reforms made in prior relief bills to keep families fed. Adequate nutrition is vital to early brain development and growth, which is why we are encouraged by additional investments in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which were increased in prior legislation, will remain elevated through September and will continue to stimulate the economy while keeping food on the table. Eligible college students, many of whom are independents or student parents themselves, will remain temporarily eligible for SNAP benefits through, at least, the pandemic’s end.

Pandemic EBT, a new program that provides direct cash assistance to students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch in lieu of missed school meals (which was expanded by Congress in December 2020 to cover eligible children ages 0-5), will remain intact through summer 2021. Lawmakers also authorized the program to operate through the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, and ensured that the program could be utilized during any school year and subsequent summer impacted by a public health emergency. With nearly 30 million students who rely on schools for their meals, these supports keep children, students, and families fed so they can meet other financial obligations.

While these critical resources are a step in the right direction, we must ensure they provide equitable supports for young children and their families. Prior to the pandemic, children of color and children from low-income backgrounds had inequitable access to health and education resources, with 2 in 5 infants and toddlers living in families with low incomes, and young children of color having inequitable access to high-quality early care and learning programs. Black, Native American, and Latina women were more likely than their White counterparts to experience poor maternal health and birth outcomes.

Before the pandemic, more than 35 million people struggled with hunger in America, a statistic that has only worsened over the past year. To truly build back better, we must center the needs of the young children and families who entered the pandemic without equitable access to these vital resources.

In all, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 declares supports for children and families as “essential.” And while these supports are certainly welcomed and celebrated, they are long overdue. At Ed Trust, we remain committed to not only ensuring that these critical funds reach the low-income communities and communities of color that have borne the brunt of this pandemic, but we also look forward to future opportunities to sustain these investments as part of a larger commitment to the social infrastructure that serves as the backbone of our nation.