OPINION: Why are we torching our best tool to end child poverty?
Published 7:52 am Wednesday, February 2, 2022
My daughter and I were on the verge of homelessness before the Child Tax Credit. What’s going to happen to vulnerable families now?
Ada Mae’s beautiful blonde curls are wild on this sunny, mild winter afternoon.
I’ve just picked her up from the homeschool co-op that supplements the first-grade lessons we’ve been doing at home, and we’re hanging out at the park. This is my favorite time of the week, watching her play with other kids.
But I’m also remembering my own childhood — cold Missouri winters without boots, hats, or mittens. The grind of poverty was tough on my family, and that trauma pursued me into adulthood.
I would do anything to keep my child from that fate, but we’ve had our close calls.
We were nearly homeless when the pandemic struck. I’d tried to pull myself out of poverty so many times by then — I’d even just finished graduate school. But trying to enter the job market as COVID-19 shut down the economy proved difficult. There wasn’t going to be enough money for rent.
Fortunately, the COVID-19 relief programs Congress passed — like the stimulus checks and those monthly Child Tax Credit payments — helped me keep our apartment.
With this help, I could look for work while homeschooling my daughter. I was even able to put a few dollars into a savings account for the first time in my life, which was a huge relief. My family wasn’t just surviving — we were on our way to thriving.
That’s exactly what a safety net is for. But now what’s going to happen?
The credit expired last December because Republicans, plus Democrat Joe Manchin, have stalled efforts to extend this tax relief to working families. Millions of families like mine missed our check in January — and we won’t get another unless they’re renewed.
Those monthly Child Tax Credits allowed Ada Mae to attend her beloved homeschool co-op, so necessary for her social well-being. They provided financial stability that helped me be more present with her, when I wasn’t worrying about how the next bill would be paid. And they gave me space to look for — and get — better-paying work in the field in which I’m now qualified.
There are lots of stories like ours. A Columbia study found that the December payments alone kept 3.7 million children out of poverty, reducing the monthly child poverty rate by about 30 percent.
But in the first month without payments, Columbia experts project that the monthly child poverty rate may rise from the current 12 percent to over 17 percent — the highest it’s been in over a year.
As these numbers show, parents weren’t squandering these payments on luxuries. They used them to live less precariously.
A quarter of parents used the credit on child care so they could return to work. A third of the payments went to essential school expenses. And at least 90 percent of families were using the credits on necessities for their families.
Perhaps most dramatically, new research has found that cash payments to low-income families significantly improve infant brain development and learning later in life.
This is the sort of lifeline that changes children’s lives. So why are we taking a torch to it? Why would we lift children out of poverty only to slam them back into it a few months later?
The failure to renew the expanded Child Tax Credit isn’t just cruel and short-sighted — it’s economically unsound. For the economy to fully recover, workers and families must be able to survive inflation and other pandemic-related hardships. The enhanced Child Tax Credit was arguably our best tool for that.
It certainly was for me and my beautiful, confident Ada Mae
All of our children deserve the best chance in life, free from the brutal precariousness of poverty. The enhanced Child Tax Credit is that best chance. Let’s not miss it.
Clara Moore is a researcher and mom who lives in Newark, New Jersey. She shares her experiences in poverty as an advocate with RESULTS Educational Fund. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.