Federal payments that kept millions of families out of poverty expired without Congress allowing them to continue, plunging those in need into a state of destitution they thought they would never have to endure again.
“It’s stupid, short-sighted and unacceptable,” said Beth McConnell, policy director at the Philadelphia Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity. “We literally take food out of children’s mouths. “
The one-year extension of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) by the Biden administration starting last July was aimed at helping families weather the pandemic with cash injections of up to $ 3,000 per year per child aged 6 to 17 and $ 3,600 per year per child from newborn to 5 years old.
The expanded CLC has particularly helped the poorest Americans. To get credit before the expansion, households had to earn at least $ 2,500 per year, leaving out those that did not earn as much.
As part of Biden’s plan, however, the CTC became fully accessible to all who live in poverty, regardless of their income.
But now, as the omicron variant proliferates exponentially, that lifeline has been reclaimed, allowing poor people to languish without a means of survival on which they depended, advocates and low-income people say.
“It’s definitely a test,” said Samantha Rodriguez, 28, an educator from South Philadelphia with a 6-year-old daughter. She had received a CTC payment of $ 250 per month that started in July and ended last month.
“This money paid for our food,” said Rodriguez, who describes herself as a single mom earning less than $ 20 an hour. She holds a master’s degree in commerce and is enrolled in a teacher certification program. Her goal is to one day open a charter school to help children with special needs. But Rodriguez is linked with $ 90,000 in student debt, making economic survival precarious.
“I’m going to have to figure out how we eat now,” said Rodriguez, who applied for a second job as a driver for Uber Eats. “I am determined not to have to go to pantries for help. “
Overall, Mai Miksic, director of early childhood policy for Philadelphia-based Children First (formerly Public Citizens for Children and Youth), predicts “longer queues in pantries and people s. ‘relying more on community programs that distribute diapers and clothing’.
As terrible as life can be, there will be short term relief no matter how small.
The expansion of the CTC was supposed to last 12 months. This means those who received payments between July and December 2021 still owe six months of cash.
But, there are two conditions. First, the money will only be released to people who file their 2021 tax return this year. This could be a problem because many low income people never file a tax return, often because they are not earning enough. Many of these people were allowed to register for the CTC in 2021 using a “non-reporting” portal on the government website.
But, advocates say, the “non-filing” option will no longer be available and people will have to file traditional income tax returns, which people living in poverty may not be able to do because they do not. unfamiliar with or can not afford ranking help. Tax services for people experiencing poverty are available.
Second, even if people file their taxes, the CTC will not be mailed to them in monthly installments like it was last year. Instead, the money will come in a lump sum, like a tax refund after being processed by the IRS, which will make it harder to pay monthly bills.
“I plan to file my taxes to get the payments for the remaining six months,” said Susann Ali, 38, a Head Start teacher in Germantown. “But until then we have no money to help me pay for my three children’s school fees at Catholic school.”
And after those payments are made, Ali said, she worries Congress will not restore the aid she had become accustomed to:
“I thought by now they would have given the credit, and I’m afraid that would never happen.”
The expanded CLC was to be so popular that Congress would automatically renew it for 2022 and beyond.
But so far that has not happened, despite continued efforts to do so. And polls show that not all Americans like the idea. A December Morning Consult / Politico poll found that only 47% of Americans were in favor of extending the expansion, compared to 42% who were against it.
More importantly, Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) said he would not support credit expansion in the future without an attached work requirement. Manchin’s vote is essential in an equally divided Senate.
This view is adopted by conservative entities such as the American Heritage Foundation, which explains that extending the expansion into 2022 would actually hamper efforts to alleviate poverty by persuading people not to work, but simply to raise public funds.
It is a minority point of view.
In a widely recognized study last fall, Columbia University found that “the improved CLC had no negative impact on parental labor market participation.”
Columbia research also found that the increased tax credit lifted nearly 4 million children out of poverty and that food was the main item families spent their federal money on.
“If one of the goals was to reduce child poverty, extended credit was an extremely effective policy,” said Temple University sociologist Judith Levine, director of the school’s Public Policy Lab.
“But now the children are back in poverty and the timing is terrible with the outbreak of the pandemic and parents having to stay out of work to be with their children as schools and daycares close.”
The end of the expanded CTC will not stop the typical CTC that families have been receiving for years. But it will mean less money. The expanded CLC has increased to amounts from $ 3,000 to $ 3,600 per child. The normal CTC was around $ 2,000 and given as a lump sum.
Congress’ failure to extend the CLC beyond 2021 irritates poverty and inequality experts.
“Allowing the expiration of the expanded child tax credit is another demonstration of the U.S. government’s intentional neglect of families with children, a clear example of legislative violence,” said Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Dornsife School at Drexel University. of Public Health.
Chilton wife Universal Basic Income, a proposed government program in which every adult citizen regularly receives a fixed amount of money.
The failure to make the CTC’s expansion permanent “means that a moment of optimism in which deep injustices and hardships could have been changed could be over,” noted Pilar Gonalons-Pons, a sociologist at the University. from Pennsylvania.
And, said Levine, the United States, “which miserably fails to reduce child poverty, is losing an opportunity on the world stage to catch up with peer nations that treat children and families better.”
This failure resonates with Mia Thomas, 37, the unemployed mother of a 13-year-old girl in West Philadelphia.
The expanded CTC had given Thomas, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, access to something rare in his life: a bank account.
“The money was a godsend that allowed me to create a next little egg,” she said. “But now I’m trying hard without the monthly payments to pay the rent and pay the bills.
“I’m still going to try to keep my bank account. But it’s going to be a fight. “