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OPINION

Congress should make child tax credit permanent

Researchers estimate the expanded child tax credit will cut child poverty almost in half, and poverty for Black children by more than half.

Brianne Epps of Jackson, Miss., 28, is a single mother with her children (from left) Nolan Epps, 11 months; Kaylee Barnes, 8; Laila Barnes, 6; and Micah Epps, 4, outside her apartment complex. Epps earns $9 an hour working with infants and toddlers in a child-care center, but she has a bigger dream of operating a soul food catering business.
Brianne Epps of Jackson, Miss., 28, is a single mother with her children (from left) Nolan Epps, 11 months; Kaylee Barnes, 8; Laila Barnes, 6; and Micah Epps, 4, outside her apartment complex. Epps earns $9 an hour working with infants and toddlers in a child-care center, but she has a bigger dream of operating a soul food catering business.Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

As part of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan passed earlier this year, Congress temporarily expanded the child tax credit to provide monthly payments for most households with children under 18. Families in Cambridge recently started seeing payments in their bank accounts, and they will receive additional payments on the 15th of each month through December. Families are receiving monthly payments of up to $250 for each child from 6 to 17 years old and $300 for each child under 6. They will also receive a lump sum of half of the up to $3,600 payment when they file their taxes next year.

While tax relief is typically available only when you file your taxes, the American Rescue Plan outlines that these child tax credit payments will be provided monthly for the first time ever. This means deeply needed relief will reach families sooner, and they can count on it each month to help make ends meet. This is a guaranteed income — direct, recurring cash payments — for families across the United States. There are no restrictions on how the money can be spent, so each family can determine their own needs from month to month.

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The expanded child tax credit also ensures that the most financially vulnerable families will get at least as much support as affluent families — the child tax credit will be fully refundable, meaning that if a family’s income tax bill is less than the amount of their child tax credit, they will get a payment for the difference. If you believe you are eligible and haven’t received a payment, you can learn more and sign up at ChildTaxCredit.gov.

The tax credit expansion is designed to help all families succeed — from those experiencing poverty and struggling with basic needs like food, rent, and bills to middle-class families who need help with child care and college savings. The IRS estimates that roughly 39 million households — covering almost 90 percent of children in the United States — will receive these payments.

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Brianne Walker plays with her 3-year-old daughter, Jeannette, at A Place To Grow daycare in Brentwood, N.H., July 26. Walker and her family have qualified for the expanded child tax credit, part of President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. "The additional money does help alleviate the pressure," said Walker, 29, who took custody of her two siblings last year after her mother overdosed. The $800 credit will help make up for losses she incurred after quitting a kitchen-design job to care for her three children, as well as her two younger brothers.
Brianne Walker plays with her 3-year-old daughter, Jeannette, at A Place To Grow daycare in Brentwood, N.H., July 26. Walker and her family have qualified for the expanded child tax credit, part of President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. "The additional money does help alleviate the pressure," said Walker, 29, who took custody of her two siblings last year after her mother overdosed. The $800 credit will help make up for losses she incurred after quitting a kitchen-design job to care for her three children, as well as her two younger brothers.Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Researchers estimate the expanded child tax credit will cut child poverty in almost half, and poverty for Black children — who are more likely to live in poor households — by more than half. I think how impactful these payments would have been for my mother, who worked as a grocery store clerk and struggled to make ends meet when I was growing up. Maybe we would have been able to move out of subsidized housing, maybe she would have been able to take time off to interview for a better-paying job. It is not hyperbolic to say these payments would have been nothing short of life-changing for our family, and as the mayor of Cambridge, I want to ensure that all my constituents have access to opportunities that are afforded to those with economic security.

A growing number of organizations, advocates, and politicians have called on Congress to permanently expand the credit. It is not only good policy, it is the will of the people — a recent poll by Mayors for a Guaranteed Income (of which I am a member) and Data for Progress found that a bipartisan majority of Americans support the expansion being made permanent.

I support the credit because it is a path to a national guaranteed income — a proven, effective, and direct way to provide our communities with desperately needed financial strength. I am also leading a guaranteed-income pilot in Cambridge, the Cambridge Recurring Income for Success and Empowerment (RISE) program. The program will provide $500 to 130 Cambridge residents who are single caregivers of at least one child under the age of 18, with payments beginning next month.

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Because a guaranteed income is targeted to those making under a certain amount, it also provides an outsized positive benefit to women and people of color, who are more likely to earn less. A guaranteed income provides real structural reform to combat the sexism and racism embedded within our economy. All Americans — particularly those disproportionately marginalized by our economic systems — deserve an income floor. If the wealthy and corporations finally paid their fair share in taxes like the rest of us, we could afford it.

Monthly payments from the American Rescue Plan and Cambridge RISE will help families in Cambridge make ends meet as we continue recovering from the pandemic. Congress should ensure this support is permanent, putting us one step closer to a federal guaranteed income. An income floor for all who need it will lift all of our communities and help us build a resilient, equitable, and thriving America.

Sumbul Siddiqui is the mayor of Cambridge.