WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 01: President Joe Biden talks to the media as he leaves a House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on October 01, 2021 in Washington, DC. Biden called the meeting in order to push through an impasse with his $1 trillion infrastructure plan. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Democratic lawmakers say Biden acknowledged price tag on reconciliation package must come down
06:22 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Brandon Scott, a Democrat, is the mayor of Baltimore. The views expressed in this commentary belong to the author. View more opinions on CNN.

CNN  — 

The Covid-19 pandemic has claimed more than 731,000 lives and countless livelihoods in the US, taking an especially savage toll on those suffering from the racial and economic disparities that have long been overlooked in this country. Having seen these disparities firsthand as the mayor of Baltimore, I know the Build Back Better agenda, along with the bipartisan infrastructure bill, has the potential to deliver results for vulnerable families in need.

Brandon Scott

The two pieces of legislation have been languishing in Congress as Democrats try to hash out a deal that will win the backing of both moderates and progressives. While media outlets have been fixated on the price tag of the Build Back Better plan, one factor is too often left out of the ongoing negotiations and press coverage: its impact on the American people.

It’s easy to get lost in the wonkiness of policy deliberations, but we must remember that an investment in people is an investment in our nation.

Cities like Baltimore have been plagued by a long history of housing discrimination and a dearth of affordable housing. Meanwhile, safety-net hospitals that treat patients regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay are under financial strain due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And when federal food programs are underfunded – and families are forced to send their children to bed with empty stomachs – public schools, churches, and food pantries look to local officials for a helping hand.

These are just some of the challenges that mayors – especially Black mayors – confronted before the pandemic, in addition to our daily responsibilities of tackling gun violence and delivering basic services. The pandemic has only exacerbated these challenges and highlighted the importance of expanding the social safety net – especially for those who have been historically deprived of equal opportunities.

There’s no question that we need to fix our crumbling roads and bridges. But it is just as important to provide much-needed security for vulnerable families. We must focus on both. As Democrats continue to negotiate the final version of the Build Back Better plan, it’s essential to retain key provisions in the bill that will have an outsized impact on the people who need it most.

The bill should promote equity by providing universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds and extending the child tax credit, which was introduced in the American Rescue Plan earlier this year. As mayor, I have seen firsthand what a difference this extra cash makes in the lives of low-income families, from paying bills to purchasing winter coats for children.

Health care should also be made more affordable by extending the tax credits that were introduced under the American Rescue Plan, closing the Medicaid gap for low-income individuals, and allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for the elderly.

The plan must also address housing. Almost every American city is facing a housing crisis, especially in the aftermath of Covid-19. People deserve access to safe and affordable housing and this right should not be a casualty in the deal-making process. The bill is also an opportunity to address the massive gap between Black and White homeownership – which is wider today (based on the most recent data from 2017) than it was when the Fair Housing Act, which prohibited housing discrimination based on race, passed in 1968, according to the Urban Institute.

Fortunately, Democrats like Sen. Ralph Warnock and Rep. Maxine Waters have proposed measures to help first-time, first-generation homebuyers through down payment assistance, which should also be included in a final package.

Lastly, we cannot allow historically Black colleges and universities to fall victim to political negotiations. These storied institutions have been chronically underfunded, yet their graduates continue to write the story of our great nation. Baltimore is a better place due to the values of service and community exemplified by Morgan State University and Coppin State University, and I’m certain other cities can relate.

Leaders like Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland are determined to apply an equitable approach towards our nation’s infrastructure, and this same energy must be applied to critical aspects of the Build Back Better agenda.

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    We simply cannot put a price tag on people. We must address the plight of everyday Americans and commit to righting the historical wrongs that continue to plague our cities today. As deliberations around President Joe Biden’s signature legislation continue, Washington must lean on the insight of mayors.

    We’re in the trenches and here to help.