The expanded child tax credit has been a smashing success — efficient, enormously popular, and transformative for millions of struggling families.
So, naturally, this being America in the 21st century, it’s about to be shut down.
The last checks hit families’ bank accounts this week. And barring an epiphany for his royal highness Joe Manchin — the Maserati-driving senator from West Virginia who is targeting the tax credit for families and holding up the Build Back Better Act, which would keep them coming — it’s hard to see how the lifeline comes back any time soon.
Lord knows there is plenty to be angry about in this country right now. But ending the tax credit boost is particularly cruel, short-sighted, and self-defeating.
Since they began in July, the child tax credit payments — authorized under the American Rescue Plan — have gone to the families of about 60 million children, about 1 million of them in Massachusetts. Depending on their income, those families have received up to $300 per child per month.
And it turns out that simply giving struggling parents a little cash can fix a lot, and fast. The payments have slashed poverty and hunger rates, lifting millions of kids into healthier, more secure lives. Without the cash boost, some 160,000 kids could be pushed back below the poverty line in Massachusetts alone, said Allison Bovell-Ammon, director of policy strategy at the Children’s Healthwatch at Boston Medical Center, which has been analyzing the payments.
“This has been an incredible tool in fighting poverty and hunger,” said Erin McAleer, president of Project Bread. “Giving people money to buy food is so much more efficient than giving out food itself.”
Most of us can agree that this is a good thing — that lifting kids out of poverty is inarguably right. But hey, maybe the moral argument doesn’t move you. Maybe, like Manchin and many Republicans, you think of the child tax credit payments as handouts to the undeserving — who should instead be defying gravity to pull themselves up their bootstraps.
Well, you’ll be glad to know that there is an excellent economic argument for the tax credits. Those who have been getting them aren’t the only ones who benefit. According to a congressional estimate, the payments put an estimated $19.3 billion back into local economies every month.
More importantly, it’s cheaper to attack hunger than to deal with its consequences. Researchers from Columbia University found that every dollar in child tax credit payments returns eight dollars in long-term savings: Better-fed, more economically stable families mean healthier kids and parents (so lower health care costs), better educational outcomes, higher-paying jobs, and longer, more productive lives.
“We think about diet-related diseases like cardiovascular diseases and diabetes and the toll they take,” Bovell-Ammon said. “But food insecurity and poverty affect so many aspects of someone’s ability to be healthy and do well in school. ”
It’s trickle-up economics. So it seems like a no-brainer to extend the program for another year (at a cost of $185 billion), as was proposed in the legislation currently stalled in the Senate. It also makes sense to extend it permanently, though that’s not on the table right now.
But it seems Manchin, a Democrat, won’t have it. Like the Republicans from whom he is often indistinguishable, the senator is suddenly worried about expanding the deficit — a fear that never seems to be an issue when it comes to blowing giant holes in the nation’s budget with defense spending the Pentagon didn’t request, or with tax cuts for the fancy folk. Or with fossil fuel subsidies for which Manchin has gone to the mat.
It doesn’t matter that credible analyses of the Build Back Better Act say it’s fully paid for, and that Democrats have promised that any programs extended beyond the bill’s timeframe would be similarly covered. The tens of millions of families receiving the tax credit have no juice compared to the rich and influential people so many Americans idolize.
It’s apparently fine that billionaires with enough money to send rockets into the sky for 10 minutes avoid paying their fare share of taxes, even as they and their fellow moguls rake in millions in taxpayer-funded research subsidies and pandemic assistance. Just as long as there’s no danger undeserving families are benefiting from hungry children being fed.