American families have struggled for decades to make ends meet with stagnant wages and a decimated social safety net. The U.S. now spends less on children than nearly any other wealthy nation.
But this year, there’s a glimmer of hope that this trend might be halted — and even reversed.
Democrats, using their razor-thin majorities in Congress, passed an expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) in March 2021 that not only increased the tax refund for families with young children but also began sending them a monthly advance.
These CTC payments benefit roughly 39 million American families who now receive monthly checks of up to $300 per child per month. That’s not nearly enough to cover the exploding cost of child care, but even these comparatively modest payments could be transformative.
The Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University documented “a notable drop in child poverty” after just the first month of CTC payments. The U.S. Census Bureau also found that after just one month, food insecurity among vulnerable families dropped significantly, and families receiving checks also had less difficulty paying for weekly expenses.
So convincing are the expanded CTC’s proven benefits that nearly 450 economists wrote an open letter to Congress urging them to extend the program beyond this year when it’s scheduled to expire.
Many policymakers agree.
President Joe Biden wants them extended for at least four years as part of the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill called the Build Back Better Act. Other Democrats are pushing to make them permanent. “If you just want to look at the impact of a child’s life, this is the biggest thing that we’re doing,” said Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), one of the CTC’s one of its biggest proponents.
Indeed, it’s hard to argue against helping vulnerable American children. But in spite of its clear benefits, the CTC is in very real political danger of being rolled back.
Accountable.US identifies nine House Democrats and two Senate Democrats — Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) — who oppose the extension of an expanded CTC. Of these 11 naysayers, eight are millionaires.
Manchin in particular has adopted a posture closer to the Republican way of thinking: that benefits aimed at wealthy interests are good for the nation, while benefits to vulnerable individuals are effectively “entitlements.”
Using Republican-favored buzzwords, Manchin recently said that while he supports the CTC in theory, “anything that can be added should be means-tested,” and that it is important that the U.S. not turn into an “entitlement society.” One critic explained, “‘Means testing’ is just a nicer way to say, ‘We want people to jump through more hoops, so fewer people can get help.’”
With friends like Manchin, Republicans can sit out the discussion and have no clear policy position on the matter.
But some CTC supporters are going on the offensive to get money into the hands of low-income and middle-income Americans by other means.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) in July introduced a guaranteed income bill that would ensure individuals making up to $75,000 a year receive $1,200 monthly checks. The SUPPORT Act, backed by progressive stalwarts such as Cori Bush (D-MO) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), includes running a pilot program initially to prove that monthly payments would have a positive impact on families.
Putting cash into the hands of ordinary Americans is a win-win proposition — the economy as a whole is buoyed when people have more money in their pockets to spend on basic necessities.
Rather than infusing the top tiers of society with money and hoping it “trickles down,” more policymakers are getting on board with direct benefits to vulnerable Americans. The CTC is one of these, and it’s working. Let’s not blow it.
Sonali Kolhatkar is the host of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. This commentary was produced by the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and adapted by OtherWords.org.