Comment: Federal Child Tax Credit reducing poverty; for now

Its extension in the Build Back Better bill must pass the Senate to ensure a brighter future for kids.

By Sharonne Navas / For The Herald

When a parent I know received their first Child Tax Credit payment in July, it was the first time that summer that they were able to breathe a sigh of relief.

Because of the expansion of the credit in the American Rescue Plan, they received $300 per child that month with no strings attached, trusted to use it as they saw fit. That money in their pockets that month meant that they no longer had to make the difficult decision between missing rent and having to tell their kids that they could not afford food that weekend.

That $300 can be a life changing amount of money. That family supports several children and elders on just $24,000 a year. The extra cash has given them a chance to buy food and school supplies, keep the lights on and pay for unexpected costs such as flat tires and medical emergencies.

The success of the expanded federal Child Tax Credit proves what families have been saying for decades: a little relief does wonders to keep people afloat. Unfortunately, if the U.S. Senate does not pass the Build Back Better bill — already approved in the House — with these payments included, we could end up right back where we started come January.

Through my work with the statewide Equity in Education Coalition, I have seen how the decisions of some lawmakers have needlessly prolonged the traumas that hunger, homelessness, and systemic racism have on our families. Service industry workers, local child care providers, gig platform workers, nurses, and people in other roles widely filled by people of color have especially suffered since the pandemic recession began; and this is no coincidence.

The white and wealthy people who built our systems designed them to benefit themselves, depriving working people of the well-funded resources and services that would have helped us out in a recession. Billionaires in our state have raked in billions more since the pandemic began, while paying six times less of their income in taxes than working people struggling just to get by.

Now more than ever, access to cash matters. Our state is no longer protecting our families through eviction moratoriums and expanded unemployment insurance, which could force us into our cars, streets or shelters if we can’t make rent. Our education systems already struggle to center our experiences as people of color, and money problems at home only make it harder for us to meet our kids’ basic needs, let alone help them thrive in school.

That’s why the congressional action that brought us expanded Child Tax Credit payments in July — and which will expire at the end of the year — has been a lifeline for so many families. Now is the time to speak up and demand that they pass the Build Back Better legislation to keep this lifesaving benefit going, including a key provision (revoked during the Trump administration) that makes sure our immigrant families can claim the credit.

The children of Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities represent more than two-thirds of children in poverty in the U.S. Reducing poverty through direct cash aid can help change this: evidence points to how programs like the Child Tax Credit reduce the harms of poverty and provide benefits to our kids that last through their education and into the rest of their lives. Even now, the credits are alleviating a little of parents and caregivers’ ever-present anxieties as we try to make money stretch enough to get through the pandemic.

The decisions our families currently are making to survive are hard. The decision that Congress faces now is not. If you care about racial justice, economic justice, and a bright future for all our kids, let’s join together to tell our members of Congress that they must pass the Build Back Better bill with a permanent, fully refundable Child Tax Credit now.

Sharonne Navas is the executive director of the Equity in Education Coalition and interim executive director of the All In for Washington Coalition, a people of color-led coalition fighting for an economy where all of us can live our lives with dignity and agency.

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