The child tax credit: Making the right choiceMarian Wright Edelman / August 27, 2021
“Groceries. I am pregnant, and I eat like a teenage boy. We needed more food. So it – it worked out perfectly.”
That’s what Endia Villar, a working parent in Texas who is expecting her second child, told a reporter she did with her recent Child Tax Credit (CTC) payment—and she wasn’t alone. Families across the country began receiving their second round of CTC payments on August 13. The American Rescue Plan signed into law in March included a significant, one-year expansion of the CTC to provide additional assistance to families with children and reach the poorest families previously left out. It also made the credit available in advance monthly payments beginning in July so families do not have to wait until they file taxes at the end of the year to receive much-needed support. As a result, nearly 90 percent of families with children are eligible to receive up to $300 per child in monthly CTC payments this year. Two months in, the expanded CTC is already boosting and stabilizing family income and is projected to cut child poverty in half. Congress must make this critical expansion permanent.
The Automatic Benefit for Children (ABC) Coalition, which is co-chaired by the Children’s Defense Fund, puts it this way: “A permanently expanded and fully inclusive CTC that reaches all children who need it, including immigrant children, will help families meet their children’s basic needs, weather unexpected expenses and plan for the future. It will also help prevent involvement in intervening systems like child protective services, promote children’s healthy development and well-being, increase educational attainment, boost future earnings, and ensure all children across the income spectrum have the opportunity to pursue their goals. Not only that, a permanently expanded and fully inclusive CTC will boost our local economies and advance racial equity: families will spend the monthly credits on goods and services, and Black, Latinx and Hispanic, and Indigenous families and communities historically forced to the economic margins will be more economically secure.” Surveys are showing that most families who spend their CTC payments right away are using them for necessities like rent, utilities, child care, school supplies and groceries. The Census Bureau just reported the results from their latest Household Pulse Survey taken before and after families received their first round of checks, and not surprisingly, it found households with children were less likely to experience food insufficiency and had less difficulty paying household expenses after the checks were distributed. Nearly half of respondents spent some or all of their CTC payments on food.
The CTC’s poverty-fighting promise underscores a truth the Children’s Defense Fund has been repeating for years: Child poverty is not an act of God. Child poverty is a choice. As a result of the combined effects of the CTC and other supports put into place or boosted during the pandemic, including stimulus payments, unemployment benefits, and increases to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the U.S. is currently projected to have the lowest poverty rate on record in 2021, even despite the pandemic’s continued economic fallout. We are seeing proof in real time that we know how to end child poverty and we can do it when we find the political will. A recent Vox article summarizing current research on the anti-poverty policies implemented during the pandemic and the resulting drop in poverty rates concluded: “The point is that poverty is a policy choice. The federal government can literally make the poverty rate whatever it likes. It could continue reducing poverty year after year, even after COVID-19 is over. It just needs to make that choice.”
Will we make the right choice? In his last Sunday sermon before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.” The pandemic finally pushed our nation to harness some of its powerful tools and resources to fight poverty for now. Let’s build on what is working, seize this moment, and choose to end it for good.
Marian Wright Edelman is founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information, go to childrensdefense.org.