Kristie Weiland Stagno: Building back for justice requires expanded Child Tax Credit

Who is most likely to be poor in America? Children. Their pre-pandemic poverty rate of 1 in 7 exceeds that of most developed nations.

During the 2022 tax season that ended last month, many low-income families rejoiced over their refunds, but the celebration was bittersweet. A key tax break to address child poverty had ended.

Just a year ago, Congress expanded the Child Tax Credit (CTC) through the American Rescue Plan to finally directly address our country’s longstanding child poverty. Not only did they increase the amount families would get by 50% to $3,000 per child ($3,600 for a child under 6), but they gave families an advance on the credit through monthly payments and allowed families with no earnings to receive the credit as well .

The expanded CTC was set to expire in 2021, but President Biden extending it as part of proposed Build Back Better. Unfortunately, all 50 Senate Republicans, joined by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, blocked its passage early this year. That stopped the CTC’s dramatic progress toward cutting US child poverty in half.

There is no shortage of data on how the expanded CTC helped low-income families and their communities. As a provider of free tax filing assistance to such households, Just Harvest saw firsthand the huge difference it made to our clients.

Alexis, a single mother of three from Brookline, said the monthly paymentshelped her get ahead with the bills. That extra breathing room allowed her to buy basic necessities for her growing kids

Erin is a South Hills single mother of twin boys, one with disabilities, who struggles with her own disabilities as well and can only work a couple of days a week. Her CTC went primarily to her kids, who needed new shoes and necessities.

Nicole, a single mother from Dormont, credits the CTC with enabling her to leave an unhealthy relationship and purchase the things her son needed.

The elected officials who have opposed this expanded tax credit for low-income families cynically suggest without evidence that it will just serve as another proverbial “welfare hammock,” helping its recipients shirk employment. Setting aside the impossibility of this — no one can raise a child on just a few hundred dollars a month — research from Humanity Forward found quite the opposite to be true. The CTC, by helping recipients afford child care, gas, car repairs, public transportation, and other necessary expenses they need to work, improved their ability to work.

Almost all (94%) of CTC recipients said they would continue to work just as much, or even more, as a ripple effect of the payments. The CTC is what allows struggling families to pull themselves up — not by their own bootstraps, an impossible maneuver, but with the support of our whole community. The recipients’ earnings, spending and taxes then refill the pot. Everybody wins, especially America’s children.

Americans value liberty and justice. But there is neither in poverty.

We’re happy to hear that Congress is now reconsidering a federal spending package that would provide much needed support for families working to make ends meet. We need to make sure that this bill includes the expanded Child Tax Credit to help ensure that everyone can thrive with dignity.

Urge your members of Congress to restore the expanded CTC to free struggling families from distress. Tell them it’s time to build back for justice.

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