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Commentary: Will Congress care enough to restore the expanded Child Tax Credit?

Keri Rodrigues | December 19, 2022

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A photo of the U.S. Capitol buildingGeneration A, the children currently attending K-12 schools, has endured political instability, a traumatizing pandemic, an interrupted education and now an economic crisis afflicting families as costs continue to rise for everyday items. The expanded Child Tax Credit, a pandemic-era program that provided qualifying families with $250 a month for children under 6 and $300 for children over 6, alleviated some of the financial pressure and ensured a little breathing room. It reduced childhood poverty in the United States by as much as 46% in a single year. Which begs the question: If Congress does not restore the program, do we as Americans really value childhood wellness? Or instead will lawmakers continue to focus on political mudslinging and let millions of children go hungry?

Being a low-income child in the U.S. is daunting and outright depressing. Living in a family with income below the poverty line as a child is associated with lower levels of educational attainment, poorer health in adulthood and lower lifetime earnings than more affluent children attain. However, economic security programs can blunt these negative effects of poverty and bring poor children closer to equal opportunity and equal access to extracurricular activities like piano lessons and baseball clubs, afterschool tutoring, healthy meals at dinnertime, mentorship and more quality time with their loved ones. All these things taken together not only level the playing field for disadvantaged kids, but help them thrive and flourish into adulthood.

Families across the country are facing unprecedented challenges, forcing them to make hard choices at the grocery store, the gas pump, in housing and for child care. The National Parents Union’s October poll found the majority of families were extremely concerned about the rise of everyday costs and that Child Tax Credit monthly checks made a difference. Of the 68% of parents who received an expanded Child Tax Credit, 86% said it had an impact on their family’s financial situation and their bottom line. Interestingly enough, although parents are not certain the midterm election results will have a net positive impact on their family, kids’ education and the economy, they are very clear on actions the federal government could take: 81% of parents in our December poll support restoring the expanded Child Tax Credit.

It is not a surprise the Child Tax Credit expansion resulted in an unprecedented reduction in households experiencing food insecurity: 14.8% of households in 2020 experienced food insecurity, compared with 12.5% in 2021. This means that as a result of the expansion, 2.5 million fewer children lived in households that experienced food insecurity, even though the cost of food has gone up by 12.4% since October 2021.

Housing costs have also risen exponentially. In 2021, housing prices increased by 18.8%, the largest increase in 34 years of data collected. A report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that 70% of Child Tax Credit recipients used their payments to supplement their housing costs — and evictions dropped dramatically as a result.

These factors, and more, have a direct impact on learning. Generation A is experiencing an education emergency, as more students are reading, writing and doing math below grade level than before COVID-19 struck. This year’s NAEP scores showed the largest declines in math ever reported. Kids are in need of extended learning opportunities — quality programs and extracurricular learning opportunities to help them catch up. The Child Tax Credit would give families the breathing room that they need to hire tutors, pay for sports teams and dance classes, and provide their children with access to joyful moments of learning to complement classroom learning that they might not otherwise have.

The National Parents Union is asking all families and allies to join our fight by signing our petition to support the restoration of the Child Tax Credit expansion and prevent 2.1 million children from falling back into poverty. Congress has until Thursday, Dec. 22 to pass an end-of-year tax package that could include relief for hardworking families as the 117th Congress winnows down.

This is not about the entitlement state — it is about raising the bar for the quality of life of America’s children. An expanded Child Tax Credit, along with the Biden administration‘s new White House Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, are necessary policies for helping families overcome needless mental and physical challenges due to an inability to afford healthy food options. When Sen. Mitch McConnell insists that any end-of-year tax deal must prioritize defense spending over domestic policies, my question is: Why do lawmakers continue to stymie efforts to lift 4 million kids out of poverty? The country needs to fortify the future by prioritizing children — their health, education, resiliency. It is a moral imperative to create the conditions in which kids are free to experience joy, shielded from unnecessary suffering, and able to access resources that will positively impact their lives.

Reinstating the Child Tax Credit expansion in the end-of-year tax package should be a no-brainer, a genuine and unprecedented demonstration that Congress — representing everyday, hardworking Americans — does indeed care about the wellness of the nation’s poorest children.

Keri Rodrigues is co-founder and president of the National Parents Union.

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