(NEXSTAR) — President Joe Biden is set to lay out a sweeping plan to provide universal preschool, two years of free community college and expanded access to child care in his first joint address to Congress Wednesday.
“One hundred days since I took the oath of office—lifted my hand off our family Bible—and inherited a nation in crisis. The worst pandemic in a century. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War,” Biden’s speech reads, according to a preview from the White House. “Now—after just 100 days—I can report to the nation: America is on the move again. Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength.”
The $1.8 trillion American Families Plan at the heart of his address seeks to implement a major part of Biden’s education goals – to invest in children earlier in their development, and to give parents forced out of the workforce during the pandemic the opportunity to find a job.
Biden’s plan calls for free, quality preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds, according to the White House. The cost, estimated to be $200 billion, would be paid for by a series of tax increases on the wealthy that would raise about $1.5 trillion over a decade.
The White House says President Biden is calling for a national partnership with states to roll out universal preschool with low student-to-teacher ratios, targeting “high-need areas” and enabling communities and families to “choose the settings that work best for them.” The program is designed to save the average family up to $13,000 annually.
Studies conducted over the past decade show that access to high-quality preschool is linked to improved graduation rates, higher salaries, less criminal convictions and lower numbers of adolescent pregnancy, according to the Center for American Progress.
Child care and educator training
The American Families Plan also calls for another $225 billion to help subsidize child care and invest in child care workers.
The plan seeks to provide scholarships and professional development for educators and boost the starting pay rate of employees in participating pre-K and Head Start locations to $15 per hour. Head Start and Early Head Start programs provide early childhood education and other services to at-risk children and families across the country.
The Biden administration seeks to boost the prosperity of the lower and middle class by allowing parents to place their children in child care and return to work. For those in most need of financial help, according to the plan, child care will be fully subsidized. Families that make 1.5 times their state’s median income will pay no more than 7 percent of their income.
Another chunk of the cost of the families plan would go toward ensuring that eligible families receive at least $250 monthly per child through 2025, extending the enhanced tax credit that was part of Biden’s COVID-19 aid.
A national paid family and medical leave program would be started at a cost of $225 billion. Another $200 billion would go to permanently reduce health insurance premiums for people who receive coverage through the Affordable Care Act.
How the Biden administration will pay for the plan
Biden wants to boost IRS enforcement and require disclosures by financial institutions, specifically targeting the rich. The White House estimates that would bring in $700 billion over 10 years. He would raise the top tax rate on the most affluent families from 37% to 39.6%. People earning in excess of $1 million a year would see their rate on capital gains — the profits from a sale of a stock or home — nearly double from 20% to 39.6%, which would mean the wealthiest Americans could no longer pay at a lower rate than many families who identify as middle class.
Republican lawmakers in Congress so far have balked at the price tag of both the “families” plan and infrastructure package, complicating the chances of passage in a deeply divided Washington.
The president has drawn a firm line that no household earning less than $400,000 a year will pay more in taxes, a line that would both broaden the definition of the middle class and clearly delineate just how extreme inequality has become.
For Biden, whose moment has been nearly a half century in the making, his speech will also provide an update on progress in combating the COVID-19 crisis he was elected to tame, showcasing hundreds of millions of vaccinations and relief checks delivered to help offset the devastation wrought by a virus that has killed more than 573,000 people in the United States. He will also champion his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, a staggering figure to be financed by higher taxes on corporations.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.