Senator Edward J. Markey joined health providers at Boston Medical Center on Monday to call for an extension of the Child Tax Credit, a federal program that has provided monthly checks to families with children since July but is due to expire next month.
The tax credit, the centerpiece of President Biden’s plan to cut child poverty in half, lifted 3.5 million children out of poverty in August, according to the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University. More than 1 million children in Massachusetts have qualified, receiving payments totaling $265 million in November alone, Markey said.
“We’re seeing the real-time, real-life impacts of this program on every single community,” Markey said. Unless the Senate acts, the monthly payments are due to end Dec. 15, he said.
“This relief currently has an expiration date, but parenting does not,” said Markey, a Democrat.
The tax credit, which was expanded in March under the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, was extended on Friday by the US House of Representatives as part of the Build Back Better bill, a $2.2 trillion social policy and climate change package. The relief legislation is opposed by Republicans and faces an uncertain fate in the evenly divided Senate, which is expected to consider it before Christmas.
Senator Joseph Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat whose objections to the cost of the legislation have delayed its consideration, has expressed concern that the child tax credit does not carry a work requirement.
“Being a parent of children is work,” Markey said.
Dr. Lucy Marcil, a Boston Medical Center pediatrician, recalled the circumstances of a patient who lost her job after her child was hospitalized for asthma.
“She had missed work because of her child’s health care needs. And after the loss of this income, she’s had an even harder time affording necessities like the child’s inhalers,” she said.
Marcil cofounded the hospital’s StreetCred program, which provides free tax services to families and helps them access public benefits, including the child tax credit. The program has already introduced the credit to the families of 200 newborns, she said.
Health problems often lead directly to economic problems, which in turn cause additional health problems, such as growth failure in children.
“We have seen the profound impact of the enhanced and advanced child tax credit in our work already this year,” Marcil said. “It is truly transforming lives.”
Unlike previous child tax credits, the expanded version passed in March is fully refundable, applying even to those who do not make enough money to file taxes. Crucially, half the refunds have been distributed through monthly checks— up to $300 per child — rather than held until tax refunds are issued. That means families have been receiving monthly checks since July, provided they know about it. Families who were not known to the Internal Revenue Service had to be alerted to the availability of the tax credit.
Allison Bovell-Ammon, director of policy strategy for Children’s HealthWatch, a network that monitors the impact of economic conditions and public policies on children’s health, urged Congress to make the tax credit permanent and cover all children regardless of their immigration status. The tax credit is currently limited to parents whose children have Social Security numbers.
“Permanently extending a fully inclusive child tax credit is the once-in-a-generation investment we need to help children thrive,” she said.
The tax credit not only offers families “peace of mind” during a time of crisis but has a “direct and positive impact on children’s health today and over the long term,” she said.
Bovell-Ammon was among those who authored an opinion piece in JAMA Pediatrics, published online Monday, that called on pediatricians to urge legislators to make the tax credit permanent.
Most families are eligible for the credit, which is $3,000 for each child aged six through 17 and $3,600 for children five and younger. The one-year cost of the tax credit is estimated at $185 billion.
The bill passed by the House Friday would extend the enhanced tax credit for one more year but make it fully refundable, a dramatic shift in social policy.
“We have to take this enormous achievement and make it permanent,” Markey said. “We have to make sure children don’t fall back into poverty.”