If you could prevent millions of children from falling back into poverty, would you? Most of us, I think, would have no hesitation in answering yes.
But not Congress. For nearly a year, lawmakers in Washington, DC, have hesitated as policies directly responsible for a dramatic drop in poverty last year fell into oblivion. It’s about time Congress brought back the improved child tax credit.
New poverty figures from the US Census Bureau leave no doubt that we can end poverty if we choose to do so. In 2020, the child poverty rate was 9.7%. By 2021, it had dropped to just 5.2% — a whopping 46% drop. It was the largest year-on-year decline on record. In the twinkling of an eye, 2.1 million children in our country were no longer living below the poverty line.
The reason for the massive decline in child poverty is clear. It’s the result of improvements to the child tax credit included in the last federal pandemic relief package passed by Congress in March 2021.
Congress strengthened the Child Tax Credit in several ways. First, it increased the amount of money families receive from the loan. Lawmakers also overhauled the credit so the lowest-income families could get the full benefit, just like middle-class families. Eventually, Congress stipulated that the benefits of the child tax credit would arrive in monthly installments rather than a lump sum after families filed their tax returns, helping them better manage their monthly bills.
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These improvements in the child tax credit have proven to be a powerful stimulant to the financial problems faced by families struggling on low wages. Most of the money went to basic necessities such as groceries, utilities and rent. The tax credit also helped families cover expenses related to their children’s education, such as B. Textbooks and materials, classes and extracurricular programs. These uses were particularly evident in the case of Black, Latino, and other color families.
The only snag with the plan was that the child tax credit improvements were temporary. The changes expired in January of this year. And so far, Congress has yet to introduce this more effective version of the child tax credit.
The expiry of the increased child allowance comes at a particularly bad time for families who have to survive on low wages. The cost of groceries, rent and other necessities of life have risen rapidly over the past year. While higher-income families have leeway to absorb price increases, lower-income families have no leeway. They already earn too little to be able to live on it. At the very least, a stronger child tax credit would help families with children keep up with the rising cost of basic necessities.
Faith leaders call for a minimum wage hike and an expansion of the child tax credit as Congress nears recess
In the longer term, a stronger child tax credit offers the opportunity to transform the lives of our most vulnerable children. There is overwhelming evidence that growing up in economic insecurity — without reliable access to basic necessities like food, shelter or health care — harms children. Children experiencing poverty have poorer outcomes on virtually every measure, from physical and mental health to academic performance and income, when they grow up. By strengthening families’ economic security, the Child Tax Credit helps children reach their full potential.
But right now, millions of children are falling back into poverty because of the inaction of Congress. Congress stands by while children suffer unnecessarily despite having a proven cure at hand.
There is still a chance for Congress to redeem itself. An anticipated year-end household bill is the perfect opportunity to reclaim the improved child tax credit. Every member of the Oregon Congressional delegation should work hard to ensure Congress does the right thing for our nation’s most vulnerable children.
The evidence gathered over the past year has removed any doubt that poverty is a political choice. It’s not inevitable. It would be a failure of Congress to send millions of children back into poverty.