Episode 13: Ideas on Ending Poverty | Senator Michael Bennet & Philanthropist Holly Fogle

In today’s episode, Jeff and Carol talk with Colorado Senator Michael Bennet and philanthropist Holly Fogle about their ideas on how to eradicate child poverty.


A Federal Child Tax Credit


Senator Bennet recently chaired a hearing that assessed 25 years of tax credits. We posted the full 2.5-hour hearing as Episode 12, and we were honored to have the senator on to discuss his thoughts on how we get rid of childhood poverty in America.

His hope is to reinstate a version of the Expanded Child Tax Credit. As we saw during the pandemic, this program directly lifted millions of children out of poverty. But it was taken away.

Who was impacted when the program ended?

·        700,000 janitors and housekeepers

·        700,000 cooks, waiters, farmers, and ranchers

·        600,000 teachers and childcare workers

·        500,000 healthcare aides in America

·        400,000 construction workers


Hard work is not a problem for this country. The problem this country has is that we've had a winner take all economy for the last 50 years, that's benefited the top 0.1%, the top 1%, the top 5% to the detriment of everybody else.


In order to help these Americans, Senator Bennett and his colleague Senator Sherrod Brown introduced the American Family Act. According to his website:


The American Family Act would replace the current Child Tax Credit with an expanded version based on the latest research about what works to improve outcomes for children. The Columbia University Center on Poverty and Social Policy recently released a report that found the American Family Act would cut child poverty by 38 percent.

Specifically, the legislation would:

  • Create a New Expanded Credit for Children under 6. The bill would create a new Young Child Tax Credit (YCTC) of $300 per month ($3,600 per year) for children under 6 years of age, up from the current maximum of $2,000 per year.
  • Increase the Maximum Child Tax Credit for All Children under 17. The bill would expand the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to $250 per month ($3,000 per year) for children 6 years of age or older, up from the current maximum of $2,000 per year.
  • Make Both Credits Fully Refundable. The bill would make both the YCTC and CTC fully refundable, meaning that all low-income families would receive the full credit for each child. The current CTC only begins to phase-in after a taxpayer has earned $2,500 of income and at a rate of 15 cents for every dollar of additional income. In addition, only $1,400 of the $2,000 credit is refundable. For these reasons, one-third of all children – 27 million – do not currently receive the full $2,000 CTC credit.
  • Benefit the Middle Class. The bill would provide a tax credit for all individuals with children who earn less than $150,000 per year and all married couples with children who earn less than $200,000 per year.
  • Index the Credit for Inflation. The bill would index both YCTC and CTC levels for inflation (rounding to the nearest $50) to preserve the value of the credit going forward. The current CTC is not indexed for inflation.
  • Set Up Advance Payments on a Monthly Basis. The bill would call on the Treasury Secretary to set up monthly advance payments for the YCTC and CTC no later than a year after passage for taxpayers anticipated to receive a refund. Monthly payments would smooth families’ incomes and spending levels over the course of a year, helping them make ends meet during difficult months.


Holly Fogle Gives Mothers Cash


It’s a simple concept: $1,000 a month for the first 1,000 days of a baby’s life. That’s almost three years, and it’s a time when development is crucial.

Through The Bridge Project, Holly places cash into the hands of those who need it most. She uses both her firsthand experience of childhood poverty and her education at Wharton Business School to inform her work.

The Bridge Project works on three basic tenants:


1.     Seeing people, not problems, and treating those people with dignity

2.     Prevent poverty, not work to undo its effects

3.     This work creates a return on investment


She and her team collect data, and they’ve found that providing this cash increases financial stability and lessens chaos within families.

Starting from a place of dignity, Holly knows that giving cash to families empowers them to make their own financial decisions on what is best for their family without anyone’s oversight.

In regards to preventing poverty, studies show that the brain develops so much during the first three years of life, and creating a better situation for families leads to better health, educational, and social outcomes—all impacted by that initial environment.

As for the return on investment, The Bridge Project knows that higher rates of poverty lead to higher costs later down the line. They’re working to stop poverty before it can take root, which saves money in the long run and produces healthier, happier citizens.



The Invisible Americans theme by Bridget St. John

Carol Jenkins

Hello, and thanks so much for joining The Invisible Americans Podcast with Jeff Madrick and Carol Jenkins. We address the travesty of child poverty here.

Jeff Madrick

There are nearly 13 million children living in serious material deprivation in America, and we don't see them. They are our invisible Americans, and we plan to change that.

Carol Jenkins

A couple of words about us. The podcast is based on Jeff's book, Invisible Americans: The Tragic Cost of Child Poverty. He's an economics writer, author of seven and co-author of another four books on the American economy.

Jeff Madrick

Carol is an Emmy-winning journalist, activist, and author. Most recently, president of the ERA Coalition working to amend the constitution to include women.

Carol Jenkins

We are longtime colleagues and friends.

The Invisible Americans theme by Bridget St. John

Jeff Madrick 

In today's episode of The Invisible Americans Podcast, we have a chance to talk with two champions of ending child poverty altogether: Senator Michael Bennet, lead sponsor of a bill to restore the Expanded Child Tax Credit for all children in the United States and then philanthropist Holly Fogle, who has dedicated $35 million of her foundation's resources to supporting children in New York with cash grants to their mothers for the first 1,000 days of the child's life.


We begin with Senator Bennett. On July 13 of this year, he held a hearing on the Senate Finance Committee, commemorating 25 years of the idea of giving tax credits to families. He has introduced the American Family Act, which would restore the expanded version that was in place for six months in 2021 and cut child poverty in half.


Carol Jenkins 

Thank you so much, Senator Bennett, for being with us today. Jeff and I are both Child Tax Credit nerds. We loved every second of your hearing. We watched it from beginning to end. And we have it up on our on our podcast, our website now so that other others who are interested in children in poverty can also take it in.


Senator Michael Bennet 

Well, thanks for being Child Tax Credit nerds. That's what we need. And thank you for that. I enjoyed the hearing. I think we got -- I think we made pretty clear hopefully that there are some pretty significant choices in front of this country, for sure.


Jeff Madrick 

Did you get good responses to the hearing?


Senator Michael Bennet 

I think we've gotten good response. It's just one building block along the way to try to get ready for what we're hopefully --  a negotiation we’ll have at the end of this year, I hope. And then once again, in 2025 when the Trump tax cuts for the wealthy expire, we've got to decide what we're going to do to replace them.


But I think people will go back to this hearing as kind of a touch point on what these distribution tables look like, what it actually looks like to be able to write a tax bill that benefits working people and poor people versus what it looks like to write a tax bill that just benefits the people at the very top.


Jeff Madrick 

Well, I think all of us here will look forward to that. I know I started working on the Child Tax Credit in 2015. Especially, I could not find progressive economists who are in favor of unconditional tax credits. That was sort of a bridge that you couldn't get over.

I wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times and got all kinds of bitter, angry letters about how the poor will just spend the money on themselves. When did you get converted to the Child Tax Credit unconditionally?


Senator Michael Bennet 

It really wasn't -- I think, in 2017 when we wrote it, but I had some folks come to see me. Bill and David Harris from New York, who were friends for a long time. David actually wrote his PhD thesis or his graduate school thesis on the Child Tax Credit. And they came, and they met with me, and I was convinced by that in part because I thought a lot about the kids that I used to work for in the Denver Public Schools when I was their superintendent.


You know, Denver Public Schools is the largest school district in Colorado. It's very similar to many urban school districts in America. The majority of kids are kids of color and kids living in poverty. And I know how hard their parents are working. You know, this is not a matter of people not working. They are working. They're working two and three jobs.


But no matter what they do, sometimes it seems like they can't get their kids out of poverty. And the more I learned about the fully refundable Child Tax Credit, the more I realized that it would give them just a little bit of incremental help that could actually dramatically reduce child poverty in America, which would help every single kid. And I know you've written about this, Jeff -- would help every single kid in terms of -- instead of just mitigating for the effects of poverty, lifting kids out of poverty to begin with is, I think, not only just a better way to do it, but a fiscally responsible way of doing it.


But then from the country's perspective, the idea that the richest country in the world, which has one of the highest childhood poverty rates in the world, in the industrialized world, could be able to say to itself, “We don't have to accept this level of childhood poverty is a permanent function or feature of our democracy or economy.” And then we can actually cut it in half. I want to end childhood poverty in this country. But that fully refundable Child Tax Credit was a big step in that direction.


Jeff Madrick 

The miracle happened.


Senator Michael Bennet

The miracle happened.


Jeff Madrick

Congress passed this unconditional Child Tax allowance. Then it was thrown out the window, which so discouraged us advocates. What was the key factor in Congress ending the program?


Senator Michael Bennet 

My colleague, you know, Joe Manchin, who just could not be persuaded of the benefits of the Child Tax Credit. He was worried about how families would spend the money. He was worried that it would disincentivize work.


I think that the data around the world where countries have child allowances, even more generous than the one that we had, makes it very clear that it has not been a disincentive for work. In fact, the opposite is true. The countries that have more generous child allowances than we have higher workforce participation rates than the United States. And that's not surprising to anybody who’s spent any time with poor people in America. You know, what you hear -- people will tell you, I said it the other day at that hearing that there's a tax for being poor. It's hard to work in America if you're poor because you have to afford transportation. You have to afford after-school programs. You have to afford early childhood education. And it's no wonder that a lot of what families spent that Child Tax Credit on was paying for childcare so that they could work.


And I think we saw in America that if anything, there was no effect. And there might actually been for some families the opportunity for them to take more hours at work. So I have not been able to persuade Manchin of that. I've not. He also, you know, thought that families would spend the money on what he thinks of as improper things.


It's very clear that they spent the money on their kids, and they spent the money on things like, you know, back to school clothes and rent and food. And you know, I had mom after mom after mom say to me that the most important thing from the Child Tax Credit is that it relieved their family of incredible stress because for once, they weren't having to choose between rent and food or school clothes and rent.


And there is enormous stress in our economy because for 50 years, we've had an economy that's worked really well for the very top and not so well for people living in poverty and for, you know, people that are hoping to turn a middle-class life over to their kids. It's been a real struggle.


So we have to go back to the drawing board. And we're going to have to -- you have to convince Joe Manchin and maybe some Republicans that this is a virtuous thing to do for America.


Carol Jenkins 

Senator Bennett, so many interesting things in that hearing. Number one, you're at the very top reminding everybody that maybe this was a Republican idea. It started that way. And then your extensive conversation with Senator Johnson from Wisconsin, 15 minutes of it. And you know, since we're nerds, we were like, our noses up to the screen saying, “What's going to come out of this?” At some point, you two seem to agree on some things. And if you can tell us what your reaction was.


Senator Michael Bennet 

First of all, Carol, I appreciate, you know, the chance to have that kind of debate. I do think one of the things I tried to do with the hearing was just give people the time they needed, and I was not using it as an opportunity just to get my witnesses to say what I wanted them to say.


I kept encouraging the people on the other side. I want to get the argument out because I think in the end, our argument’s much stronger rather than their argument, especially when what you want to defend is a Trump --  you don't, but they did -- a Trump tax cut where 52% of it went to the top 5%, you know, at a time when we've got the worst income inequality that we've had since 1920.


So I think there's a lot of opportunity here for people to work together. Some people don't know the history of the Child Tax Credit, as you mentioned, you know, it was part of -- Believe it or not, the first legislative version of it sprung from the Contract for America that Newt Gingrich led in that very radical Republican House. To the point that we were discussing earlier, George Bush, when he was president, is the one that made it refundable for the first time, partially refundable.


So there is a Republican track record here, which argues, I think, well for bipartisanship. And the thing is, I agree partly with what Senator Johnson said, which is I don't defend every government program that's out there. One of the things that I like about the Child Tax Credit, is that you don't need an additional bureaucrat in the federal government to administer it. This is a credit that families get to decide how to spend on behalf of their kids. I think that's a more efficient way of doing it.


And there are lots of things I worry about, you know, in terms of things that, you know, the way government works or doesn't work. I mentioned earlier I was a school superintendent. I'm deeply worried about the fact that in America, if you look at our lack of preschool education, the lack of quality of K-12 education and the expense of higher education, when you add all that together, it is a fact -- I hate to say it, but it is a fact and Raj Chetty’s data bears this out if anybody wants to look at it -- that our education system’s reinforcing the income inequality we have as a nation rather than liberating kids in their circumstances, which has led me to conclude that we need a revolution in the way we deliver K-12 education and in the way we deliver early childhood education, not to mention higher education.


You know, that's not always a popular view among elected officials, but that is my view because I have seen firsthand what kind of difference it makes for a kid who has access to a high-quality education versus a kid that's going to school that no kid in America should have to go to. And so I do think there is the opportunity for us to work in a bipartisan way to consider what things have not worked well, what things we need to do better.


Ron, there's some things I disagree with Ron Johnson. For example, I think Social Security’s done an amazing job reducing poverty among seniors. You know, one of the reasons I like the Child Tax Credit is that it looks a little bit like Social Security for kids. And no kid decides to be born poor in this country, and they ought to have some assurance or some chance, you know, to think that everybody in America is going to have a chance. And that's what the Child Tax Credit is all about.


Carol Jenkins 

And you talked about a roundtable. Is that going to happen?


Senator Michael Bennet 

We’ll see. I hope so. I hope we're -- You know, the more we can get people talking about the Child Tax Credit and understanding, I think, these distribution tables. That's a boring way of saying, what kind of choices America should make on taxation. I hope it's one that reflects the reality of the American economy.


You heard a lot of people the other day talking about 1990s. This is not the 1990s anymore. You know, I still believe we can create an economy in America -- In fact, I believe we have to create an economy in America where when it grows, it grows for everybody, not just the people at the very top. And that's the kind of stuff at a roundtable that we really could talk about.


And I think the format of these hearings is not the greatest way to do that, having a debate going back and forth, being willing to try some things. I mean, you know, one of the things about this experiment, Jeff, with the Child Tax Credit is, you know, we should have left it in place if for nothing else, it would have given us a great chance to explore the potential of this policy idea.


And I think based on what data we did have for the six months, it looked like it was going to be a complete home run. I mean, I think if, you know, you watch the hearing the other day, it was interesting to me that the people that were the opponents of the credit were basically -- they were not saying that the evidence was different from what I'm saying. They were saying there are reasons why you might want to disregard that evidence because it was during COVID or because there was other stuff going on. That's kind of an interesting take.


Jeff Madrick 

One thing that persists in the in the poverty policy arena, long before even this discussion started, is that welfare allows people not to work. They can't get rid of that argument, no matter how much evidence is presented. Your witnesses presented some serious evidence. And the opposition presented barely an outline of contrary evidence. How does one deal with this work issue?


Senator Michael Bennet 

Yeah, well, first of all, you got to keep delivering the evidence. Look, it's intuitively you can understand why people would say, “Well, wait a minute. If you give somebody a benefit that's fully refundable, maybe that means they're going to be less likely to work.” I understand how somebody might believe that.


That's not what the data shows, you know? And if you're a working family in America that's facing thousands of dollars to pay for childcare, for example, or thousands of dollars to pay for preschool or the hundreds of dollars for after-school programs, having a benefit of you know, 10 additional dollars a day is not going to make you quit your job.


What it is going to make you do is buy a little bit more childcare, so you can stay in the job. What it’s going to do is allow you to buy, you know, a little bit of an after-school program or maybe some transportation so your kid can stay at school, and you can stay at work. And that's what we see in other countries.


And that's what we saw during the time that the credit was there, 70% to 80% of the people that benefited from the fully refunded Child Tax Credit who are now not benefiting from it on the same measure because it's been taken away, 70% to 80% of those people were working, you know, and if you look at the people that have lost the benefit of that credit, as a result of the changes we made:


·        700,000 janitors and housekeepers

·        700,000 cooks, and waiters and farmers and ranchers

·        600,000 teachers and childcare workers

·        half a million healthcare aides in America

·        400,000 construction workers


I mean, I think the data I showed at that hearing the other day was that if you add up the people that are working with the people who have a kid under the age of two -- And even the Republicans say, “Look, you know, if you got a kid under the age of two, maybe it'd be better for you not to be working.”


And then there are kids who are living with seniors. And you add all that up, you get to about 95% of the people that have the credit. So I think this idea that somehow, this credit is going to disincentivize people from working. On the facts, both anecdotally and in the data, it's just completely wrong. And the benefit to America to, you know, lifting kids out of poverty, not having to pay for mitigating the effects of poverty -- Childhood poverty costs America about a trillion dollars a year.


Columbia University has told us that if you just look at America, not the kids themselves, but just America that the payback on the Child Tax Credit is eight or nine times because of reduced incarceration, because of reduced welfare programs and other social programs. You know, there's nothing better you can do than give kids a better start. And my position on this is that we should end childhood poverty in America. That should be our starting point.


And I'd even be willing to accept there might be the risk in a very, very tiny, almost imperceptible number of people that somehow we didn't get the incentive actually right. But the benefit to the entire country is just a tidal wave that overcomes all of that. And we've just got to keep making the argument and making sure people understand who the people are that are getting cut off by this credit.


You know, I think there's this idea somehow -- Sometimes in America, you hear this debate about virtuous poor people and unvirtuous poor people. I can tell you this. The parents that were working in the Denver Public Schools and when I was there were killing themselves every day to go to work to support their families. Their families were killing themselves every day to support themselves. Hard work is not a problem for this country. The problem this country has is that we've had a winner take all economy for the last 50 years, that's benefited the top 0.1%, the top 1%, the top 5% to the detriment of everybody else.


And you know what, when people lose hope in an economy, in the history of mankind, humankind they lose hope in a democracy, that opportunity is going to be there if they work hard for their family. That is when somebody inevitably shows up and says, “I alone can fix it.”


As Donald Trump said, you don't need a democracy. You don't need the rule of law. You should expect your public sector and your private sector to be hopelessly corrupt, hopelessly bankrupt. And if you don't believe that, you're a sucker.


That is not what the parents in the Denver Public Schools believe. That is not with the parents all over rural Colorado and all over rural America, who benefited from this, believe. And that is, you know, when you think about it, it's unimaginable. I can't think of another program that in American modern -- American history that's benefited more kids: 90% of the American children, 62 million kids.


The IRS did what it was supposed to do. It worked. It didn't take one extra bureaucrat. Give it a chance to work, you know? And I'm there to ask, “What else can we do for America's kids?” You know, I'm not going to defend programs that don't work. We are going to have to figure out how to have a better education system in America than the one we have, just to take that as an example.


But the Child Tax Credit, the fully refunded Child Tax Credit that Sherrod Brown and I wrote, you know, frankly, there has not been a more significant domestic policy in this country since the 1960s. And we got to keep fighting for it.


Carol Jenkins 

Well, Senator Bennett, we want to thank you so much for being with us. We know that you have a very busy schedule today. Thank you for your passion.


Senator Michael Bennet 

I appreciate your following this. Please let me come back. And let's stay in touch, and let's keep fighting because the richest country in the world should not have some of the highest numbers of childhood poverty. We just shouldn't have it, in our own interest -- our own interest as a country, to say nothing of the interest of kids who did not ask to be born poor. So thank you.


Jeff Madrick 

We're gonna keep fighting. All right.


Senator Michael Bennet 

Thanks for having me. Thank you.

The Invisible Americans theme by Bridget St. John

Carol Jenkins 

Holly Fogle grew up in the Appalachian foothills. She witnessed the effects of poverty on children firsthand. In her post successful life in finance, she has dedicated her efforts and resources to giving mothers what they need: cash.


Her Bridge Project now supports hundreds of mothers with up to $1,000 a month in cash for the first 1,000 days of the child's life. That's the most crucial development time. Holly is putting $35 million of her Foundation's resources into this project, hoping others will join her.


Holly, so glad you are here. You know, this idea that you had of simply saying “give them the money” is exactly what Jeff has been saying, as well. Give them the money. You have such an interesting personal story. Tell us about that. Appalachia, then going to Wharton Business School and all of that, how you got to this point.


Holly Fogle 

Yeah. Well, I'm delighted to be here, Carol and Jeff. Thank you guys for having me. And you're right. I think this is what makes The Bridge Project in some ways really interesting is that it is so simple, and it is so scalable. And I think a lot of that was grounded in, as you said, my upbringing.


So we have three sort of basic tenants at The Bridge Project, and one that starts and underlines everything is the dignity of people. So I grew up in the Appalachian foothills on the Ohio-West Virginia border. And I witnessed poverty firsthand every day of my childhood. And I watched it obliterate hope, and I watched it devastate families. But I also watched resiliency and determination, particularly of women and particularly of mothers. And I really believe that we rise to our better angels.


And I see people. When I think of our bridge moms, I see people not problems. And I certainly believe in a mother's love and that there's just nothing fiercer than that. And I think that really led us to these other sort of two tenants of The Bridge Project.


One is that we need to try to prevent versus undo as a country. And so to me, right, as a philanthropist, that meant babies, not after-school programs or other things, and the first 1,000 days of life really, really, really matter. And I know you too both believe that, as well.


But you know, I think just these -- the academic research keeps piling up around this. And yet we don't act as a country like we have read any of that. So this idea of preventing versus undoing is really important to me.


And, you know, the last bit, I think again, that that journey of my life has informed is that the return on investment really matters. So my husband and I are both Wharton finance majors. I'm a former McKinsey partner. My husband is a venture capitalist. We have about $35 million of our own money committed to The Bridge Project.


And I think the reason that is, is because we deeply believe that cash is the most efficient, effective tool we have as philanthropists and as policymakers. You know, I was reading a study, an old study, actually, out of Princeton, but it said that food stamps are valued at 80 cents on the dollar by recipients and 65 cents on the dollar in the underground market.


And that's the most efficient sort of government program we have. So I hate bureaucracy, right? So what I think we can just actually get cash in the hands of moms at 100 cents on the dollar. Like, I'll take that every day.


Jeff Madrick 

When I read about your foundation and your charity work, I was so delighted to see how you emphasize cash. I think some people who may be listening to this may not understand the history of that, because for a long time, especially in right-wing circles, cash was the enemy. Cash, indeed, they claimed was the cause of welfare, caused dependence. And it's really great that not only have you pursued this, but you have some evidence that cash really works. What kind of evidence is it?


Holly Fogle 

Yeah, you're absolutely right, Jeff. I think it's important. You know, it probably makes sense given the background I just said to you that I really love data. And so we weren't just going to go at this from, “This is going to feel good.”


But what does it actually mean? And so we started The Bridge Project three summers ago. So we're with our third cohort of mothers now. And the first cohort, we're working very closely with the University of Pennsylvania Center for Guaranteed Income Research. And you know, they're looking really deeply at a bunch of different metrics. And it's early days, right?


But what we are seeing right now is that the early data shows a lot of signs of increased financial stability. So mothers are able to afford childcare. And they're starting to build up emergency savings. So those are important factors in terms of thinking about the financial stability of a household and the ability to, you know, go buy diapers if you need to buy diapers, or go buy formula, if you need to buy formula.


The longer-term research that we just started to look at recently -- we're only two years into that first cohort -- is that the payments are lessening chaos and increasing organization and harmony. And those are research terms. Those are also just normal English terms. But they actually mean something on the scales that the researchers are using around household stability, which I think is a great sign for what we hope will then be lots of additional data to come down the road.


Carol Jenkins 

Holly talked to us about -- You started this in New York City, and it keeps growing, expanding. And these are sizable payments, you know? Guaranteed income is spreading across the country, probably because of your, you know, emphasis in this. I know lots of mayors are doing it now. But a lot of the payments are, you know, $200, $300.


So you started with $1,000 for the 1,000 days of a child's life. Talk to us about that amount. Pretty hefty investment.


Holly Fogle 

Yes. Two things I would say, back to this idea of preventing versus undoing. It sounds like a lot. But I mean, if we think it costs half a million dollars to keep one person incarcerated in Rikers Island, that's a lot of money, too.


So I would rather spend money on preventing versus undoing. And in our very first cohort, we actually split the moms, and half were receiving $500 and half were receiving $1,000 as sort of one of our first tests. We're always testing always trying to learn.


And what we talked about very deeply with the Penn researchers is that we really were not seeing the same sorts of movements in the $500 group as we were with $1,000. And they weren't accessing childcare. They weren't able to go back to work at the same rates.


And I think what they felt and we felt -- and they were also doing some other pilots on the West Coast -- is that in cities as expensive as New York, you really need to have a substantial payment in these earliest days of life to make a difference. And you know, it's pretty incredible because the average household income of one of our moms is $14,000. Household, right? $14,700. You know, if you think of diapers costing almost $1,000 a year the first year of life, that extra cash really provides some important financial stability.


Jeff Madrick 

Another thing that intrigues me about your work -- there are actually two parts. One is how much you emphasize that the mother should be autonomous. There are no conditions on mothers, even though they're poor. They can make decisions about their children. And they emphasize this in Europe, as well. So let's just stay on that. Where did you get this idea? Was this from your own experience?


Holly Fogle 

You know, I think a few places. Just, you know, certainly my own experience of seeing what it -- how women made decisions living in poverty in Appalachia, good decisions. But, you know, I think where this really got honed for me was we had been working in early childhood for a while in New York City. And when the pandemic hit, we really were close to a bunch of the grassroots organizations that were on the front lines.


And what we just heard across the board – because, of course, the city was in lockdown. Their clients, these mothers were -- and babies -- were really suffering. But they could not get them help fast enough. You know, I think that was the kernel of the, “What if we just got them cash?” Because that's what they really needed most in those moments.


And then we followed up with them. And we said, “What happened? What hat did you do with that cash?” And the answers were so different, right? Of course, people are buying diapers. Of course, they're buying food. Of course, they're giving a bit of dollars to their rent, to the landlord for rent.


But you know, one mom -- I'll never forget -- said to me, I have to keep my cell phone on because I have to speak to my mother every day. She is the best mental health therapist I have. And if I can't keep the cell phone on, I don't know what I will do. I will lose my mind. And I think she meant that quite literally. And so I think when we saw how this was in practice when applied, and that moms are making minute-by-minute resource allocation decisions so wisely. It became a no-brainer for us to then think about how would we expand this and grow this, you know?


And then the huge benefit that I know you guys talk about a lot is -- the country actually did a pilot just like this called the Expanded Child Tax Credit, where we saw enormous amounts of benefit and a lot of very good decision-making on the part of parents.


Carol Jenkins 

One of the things that, as I was reading your responses to people, even good-hearted people who say, “Well, maybe these mothers, once they get the money should take a financial literacy course or something like that.” And I love your response, you know, is that, you know, these mothers know how to stretch 10 bucks, you know, much less, you know, so talk to us about -- I think just the end, you use the word patriarchy to when you say we're removing patriarchy from this giving, this cash system.


Holly Fogle 

Well, I believe this so deeply, Carol, and I'll maybe -- I'll tell you a story on this one that I think maybe illustrates it better than anything I will say, which is a story about Anna, who was one of our early moms.


And 71% of our moms have less than $100 in savings when they enter the program. So there is no safety net in this household, in all these households. So when we ask her about her total savings, she tells us she has $20 hidden under her mattress, and she is not going to spend it for food or for rent or for back to school supplies because her oldest child has severe asthma.


And in her neighborhood, the ambulances are slow. And so the $20 is her taxi fare to get that child to the hospital in the middle of the night in the event of an asthma attack. So when that is a trade-off that a mother is making every day, that weighs on her soul. So I think, you know, at the end of the day when people say, “Oh, can we trust them to make the trade-off?” If she's worried about the trade-off of having enough money to save her child's life in the event of an asthma attack versus buying protein for dinner, I'm not too worried about how she's making those trade-offs. I'm going to trust her completely to do what she needs to do for her family.


Jeff Madrick 

What strikes me and what I've written a fair amount about is racism at the heart of America's attitudes towards poverty. You have very high proportions of people of color in your program. what makes people like Senator Manchin, despite all evidence against it, believe that mothers of color will waste the money if you give it to the family?


Holly Fogle 

Oh, gosh, Jeff, I wish I could answer that. I wish I could talk to that man. I was like, he doesn't -- he represents the state, right, where I grew up. And I think, you know, we could trace this back -- I don't know, maybe the Ronald Reagan and the welfare queen analogies of a long time ago. But you know, we just have so much evidence over and over again that people don't waste this money. It's not about drugs and alcohol or any of those things.


And by the way, it's also not about sitting on a couch because people will say to me, “Oh my gosh, $12,000 a year, that's a huge amount of money.” Like, it's New York City. If your average household income was $14,000 a year before you've had a baby, and now you've got a new bill of $1,000 of diapers and formula and you’ve got to buy a crib for safe sleep and all of those things are happening, this is not a lot of money.


And you know, we've seen this in guaranteed income pilots across the country where people actually go back to work at higher rates. And they end up with better paying jobs because they're actually able to take that day off of work knowing that if they get fired because they missed that work, and they don't have any time off to look for this other job, that it's okay. They can still feed their family tonight. They can still pay rent this month. And I think there are there just a lot of really detrimental stereotypes out there around women and around Black and brown women. And, you know, I think it's really holding us back as a country.


And fundamentally, you know, I say I'm a baby person. So this is about -- regardless of what we all then want to think about a mother -- fundamentally, this is about our future as a country and our future workforce, our future health care recipients. And we know that if we can help stabilize those first 1,000 days of life when that brain is developing in incredible rates, we are all going to be better off as a country.


Carol Jenkins 

Holly, you and your husband have committed $35 million to this for the New York City area, and it's expanding. How much do you think it will cost? And I know that you've got partners who are coming in and, you know, contributing and want to copy your very successful model, but how much do you think? What do we need money-wise to actually cure this issue?


Holly Fogle 

It's a great question, Carol. And, you know, I mean, ultimately, it's a lot, right? So I think at the end of the day, I'm deeply supportive of reinstating the Child Tax Credit on a federal level at a 10 time return on investment. That just makes good economic sense for our country.


In the meantime, we've been working with New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams to think about a bill for New York City that would expand some programs like this. And at the New York State level, Senator Jessica Ramos has introduced a bill at the assembly that would provide similar benefits to 15,000 moms across the state.


But you know, this is where like, in the meantime, we can make a tremendous amount of progress on this as private philanthropic people. I was just thinking, like, Jeff Bezos has been in the headlines so much this week because of the new yacht, right, that cost half a billion dollars. He buys one boat for one person. For that same amount of money, we could choose to lift every baby born into poverty in New York City, the largest city in our country, for 24 months.


24 months of babies lifted out of poverty or one boat: I mean, these are sort of the choices that are out there. So I really invite my fellow philanthropists to join me as we wait for these policymakers to catch up because to me, I see people and possibilities. And we could do this in many, many, many cities in this country for thousands of babies.


Jeff Madrick 

I want to applaud you again for giving $35 million of your own money. I assure you, if I had that much, I would give it to you.


Holly Fogle 

Thanks, Jeff. You know, we're not taking any of it with us. The boat’s not coming. So I think if we could collectively as New York City philanthropists or American philanthropists leave legacies of worlds where we have babies and children flourishing, that's the world that I want to live in. So I just tried to do my part to make that happen.


Carol Jenkins 

Holly Fogle, thank you so much. You are doing tremendous work. Thank you for all the input. And thanks so much for taking time to be with us today.


Holly Fogle 

Carol, Jeff, pleasure. Thank you, thank you.


Jeff Madrick 

The Invisible Americans theme by Bridget St. John

Jeff Madrick

History will judge the nation's decency in various ways, one of them will surely be the well-being of all its children. American neglect of its poor children is both inexplicable and deplorable. By basic measures, it has the highest child poverty rate among rich nations in the world. A generation of careful academic research has shown how damaging this has been to children's cognition, health, nutrition, and future wages. And 2021 Congress and the president adopted an enlightened program that expanded the Child Tax Credit and made it available to almost all children no matter their race, ethnicity, or how little their parents earned. The results were stunning, cutting the poverty rate by half. But Congress refused to renew the program. In coming months, this podcast will examine the future of the Child Tax Credit and other key policies to protect children from the destructiveness of poverty. We are dedicated to restoring a bright and optimistic future for all children in this land long celebrated for equal opportunity.

Carol Jenkins 

Thanks so much for joining us on The Invisible Americans Podcast, available wherever you get your podcasts. But we urge you to visit our website for transcripts, show notes, research and additional information about our guests and their work. That's www.theinvisibleamericans.com. Please follow us on social media and our new YouTube channel. And our blog posts are up on Medium, as well as our website. That's www.theinvisibleamericans.com. Jeff and I will see you the next time.

Michael Bennet

U.S. Senator (D-CO)

Michael Bennet has represented Colorado in the United States Senate since 2009. Recognized as a pragmatic and independent thinker, he is driven by an obligation to create more opportunity for the next generation. Michael has built a reputation of taking on Washington dysfunction and working with Republicans and Democrats to address our nation’s greatest challenges—including education, climate change, immigration, health care, and national security. Before serving in the Senate, Michael worked to restructure failing businesses and helped create the world’s largest movie theater chain. As superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, he led one of the most extensive reform efforts in the country, resulting in substantial, sustained academic improvement for Denver’s children. He lives in Denver with his wife and three daughters.

Holly Fogle

Co-Founder & President of The Bridge Project

I grew up in a small town in the Appalachian foothills on the border of Ohio and West Virginia. My family founded the county in 1803 and remain there today. It is a place of deep poverty. As a child, I watched my parents help others: taking a tuna casserole with a Ritz Cracker crust to a sick friend, following an ambulance with other family members in tow, and volunteering their time at church.

At the age of 18, I wanted to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company (I have always been a dreamer!) so I went to the local library and looked up the best undergraduate business schools in the country. When I set foot on the campus of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, I quickly realized that the world was a very big place and I knew very little!

I started my professional career at McKinsey & Co., a global management consulting firm, and eventually became a Senior Partner, advising those very same CEOs I had dreamed of being. And I kept dreaming, but found my dreams began to change. I came to understand that I am meant to help the most vulnerable, not the most powerful. I want to be proximate to people and really listen to what they need (not what I think they need). So I left McKinsey after 13 years and found myself working to help immigrant mothers with babies living below the poverty line at Nido de Esperanza in New York City. Leading with my Appalachian heart and my McKinsey-trained brain, I dove in to understanding early childhood poverty—how to prevent, not just undo.

After these last five years of on-the-ground experiences at Nido, I continue to be most fulfilled by partnering with grassroots organizations that face insurmountable odds and persist with grit and determination. I am drawn to women leaders whose voices are not heard enough. I spend a lot of time trying to really “see” people… I am still a dreamer and love to hear mothers’ hopes and dreams for themselves and for their children.

Grounded in these values and principles, our foundation has launched The Bridge Project, a guaranteed income program in NYC for mothers of young children. We are putting cash directly in the hands of women with no strings attached. No patriarchy. No pretending that I know best. I trust these mothers to do what they need to do for themselves and their family—they have the answers within them. We have started with 100 mothers and will continue to expand it in the coming months.

My upbringing gave me so many examples of people showing up for other people and the power of community. Every day I have a choice as to how I spend my energy. Every day, I reflect on “Who am I showing up for in this world?” I lean into my discomfort, and try to act with humility, to listen, and to trust.

Women helping women in community feels like a great place to ground myself. This is why I am so excited to make my #GetEqual commitment to realizing a gender equal world.