For the last 15 years, Christina Morris has helped build Boston’s skyline with metal studs and drywall.
The veteran carpenter wakes up at 4 a.m. get her four children — aged 11, 9, 5, and 3 — ready for the day, and takes them to be cared for by their grandparents.
Morris has had a hard time finding quality child care she can afford that could accommodate children in the early-morning hours, and she relies on her partner’s family — her “unsung heroes” — to fill the gaps.
Her children were four of around 1 million in Massachusetts last year who benefited from the expanded Child Tax Credit, a federal program that provided households with monthly payments of up to $300 per child.
They were also affected when the program came to a halt at the end of 2021, after the Senate failed to pass President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which included a year-long extension for the program.
Morris’s story is one that US Representative Ayanna Pressley hopes to highlight as Americans tune in to Biden’s first State of the Union address Tuesday night. Hers is also a story Pressley hopes will persuade her colleagues in Congress to prioritize benefits for families.
“We keep talking about all the things the pandemic made plain,” Pressley, who is hosting Morris as a virtual guest to the address, told the Globe in an interview. “We had a child care crisis in this country pre-pandemic. Families like Christina’s were already struggling to get the care they needed. . . . I refuse to let up; we have to renew this critical benefit.”
The federal program, which was expanded as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan relief bill, allowed families with children like Morris’s to have a monthly safety net when it came to groceries, clothes, and school supplies.
Unlike previous child tax credits, the expanded program was available to anyone, even those who didn’t make enough money to pay taxes; was fully refundable; and was distributed monthly, instead of being held until tax refunds are issued each year.
When Morris left her job for months-long stints in 2020 and 2021 due to forced layoffs and remote learning for her children, the monthly checks were “super handy” to help her keep up with the bills, she told the Globe. It was “a sense of relief that there was a little extra there.”
“If President Joe Biden was to make it permanent, more families would have a sense of security and wouldn’t have to stress out as much,” Morris told Pressley in a separate conversation.
Massachusetts has the second-highest cost of child care in the country, according to nonpartisan think tank Economic Policy Institute.
The US House of Representatives extended the program as part of Biden’s $2.2 trillion Build Back Better package, but the Senate failed to pass it, citing concerns that the payouts would discourage people from working and drive inflation.
Pressley spoke out against the Senate’s vote at the time, and said Congress now has the opportunity to use a Democrat majority to continue helping families. She said she hopes Biden addresses concerns over affordable child care and access to pre-K in his speech.
“I had this idea to have a virtual State of the Union guest . . . to spotlight her story and make the case for why we have to fight for universal child care and pre-K, but also why we need to continue to fight for an extended and permanent child tax credit,” she said. “This is an economic justice issue.”
All members of Congress were invited to attend, but guests are not allowed under a coronavirus safety protocol. That said, Pressley isn’t the only member of the Massachusetts delegation inviting virtual guests to highlight parts of Biden’s agenda.
Freshman congressman Jake Auchincloss is bringing State Representative Tommy Vitolo to represent local projects funded by the American Rescue Plan, and US Representative Katherine Clark has invited all the public health directors from the cities and towns in her district to discuss how American Rescue Plan dollars helped them hire more staff, buy personal protective equipment, and conduct contact tracing throughout the course of the pandemic. Congressman Seth Moulton will be joined virtually by Ehsanullah Nizami, a former interpreter for American forces in Afghanistan who now works with Afghani refugees on Massachusetts’ North Shore and has highlighted concerns of documentation issues and work opportunities for resettled families.
Morris, who will appear in a video conversation with Pressley ahead of the address, will be watching the speech on television with her family from her Hyde Park living room and listening for Biden to mention the importance of affordable child care.
Pressley will watch the address live alongside her colleagues in the US House chamber.
“I will try to pull my earring, and it will be my nod to you,” she told Morris during the interview. “I’ll say, ‘Hey, Christina.’ ”