Texas could test one of Biden’s core political bets
The numbers involved are enormous. One recent Urban Institute study showed that more than 1.5 million uninsured Texans could receive health care coverage under the bill, twice as many as in any other state. Another study, by the anti-poverty nonprofit Center for Law and Social Policy, found that because Texas has so many low-income kids, it would receive more funding than any other state to expand child care programs — more than $11 billion over just the next three years.
Another provision in the bill expanding access to school nutrition programs for lower-income students through the summer could reach more than 3.6 million kids in Texas, nearly as many as California, even though the Golden State has about 20% more children. Still another analysis found that the bill’s changes in the child tax credit could lift a stunning 535,000 Texas children out of poverty, reducing the state’s elevated current rate of childhood poverty by more than 40%.
Republicans in Texas, as elsewhere, are mobilizing to disparage the bill as accelerating inflation, raising taxes, discouraging work and rewarding undocumented immigrants. But, notwithstanding those arguments, if a panoramic array of new government benefits that will directly touch millions of families cannot restore Democrats’ ability to compete electorally in Texas, it’s not clear what would.
“When the Senate passes this and the President signs it we will have delivered real benefits to people in their lives, and not for the wealthiest people in this country but for the people that go to work every day, some of whom struggle every day,” Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas told me. “But it’s incumbent on Democrats to go and talk to folks in their communities. People will see the effects over the course of a year or two years and so forth, but you’ve also got to get out there and talk to people about it.”
Bill would strengthen Texas’ social safety net
Across each of these measures, the problems are more acute for African American and Latino families. More than one-quarter of Texas Latinos, for instance, lack health insurance and nearly one-fourth of Latino children (as well as one-fifth of Black children) live in poverty, according to studies by the non-partisan Urban Institute. (Though the large number of undocumented immigrants contributes to these trends, the Urban Institute has found that two-thirds of the state’s uninsured, for instance, are US citizens.)
In many of the preponderantly Latino counties through the Rio Grande Valley, where Trump scored his unexpectedly large gains in 2020 — a list that includes Hidalgo, Starr, Zapata and Cameron — one-third of the population is uninsured and one-fourth to one-third live below the poverty line. In Hidalgo, “we have some that are poor, some that are real poor and some that are real, real, real poor,” says Richard Cortez, the county judge there (the equivalent of a county supervisor). “I’ve seen homes with no electricity or running water. That’s the real, real, real poor.” Even in the booming metropolitan counties centered on Houston and Dallas, one-quarter of non-elderly people are uninsured.
Against that backdrop, the federal legislation could transform the extent of the social safety net in Texas across many fronts. Among them:
“It’s hard to overstate the importance of this legislation in reducing child poverty,” says Elaine Maag, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute’s Tax Policy Center. “It’s a very direct benefit, and unlike some of the other policies in the legislation that require the state to act for their population to benefit, this is a federal program, so it doesn’t matter who the governor of your state is, you are going to get the benefit.”
One key to the potential impact: Even if the state refuses to participate in the new universal pre-K program (which most expect), the bill allows cities and counties to join on their own. Democrat Rodney Ellis, a commissioner in Harris County,…