Can monthly tax credit payments improve US childhood poverty?


(NEW YORK) — There were times throughout the COVID-19 pandemic when Maeghan Murdock worried about how her family — which includes a newborn — would keep up with all their growing financial demands.

Facing an inevitable $300 rent increase as bills piled up, their dreams of saving to eventually buy their own home seemed to be a far-fetched goal.

But then several rounds of economic impact payments came through. She and her husband were able to save those federal stimulus dollars and apply about $18,000 to help purchase a new home in Tucson, Arizona.

Now Murdock, 29, a non-profit professional, sees the Biden administration’s new, expanded child tax credit with its monthly payments as a means of bringing some stability to their family as her husband’s return to work as a professional chef depends on how fast the restaurant industry bounces back from the havoc wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The tax credits will help us make sure that we’re able to pay our mortgage and have things that we need for our child,” she said.

Even as Americans begin returning to work and school this fall in greater number, economic uncertainty for those living at or below the poverty line is still a top-of-mind concern. For the families of nearly 12 million children in the U.S. who live in poverty and disproportionately identify as African-Americans or Latinos, the Biden administration’s child tax credits could be a game-changer, but those monthly payments are scheduled to end in December.

Touting the payments as they started to go out Thursday, President Joe Biden called them “another giant step toward ending child poverty in America.”

“This has the potential to reduce child poverty in the same way that the Social Security reduced poverty for the elderly,” he said.

Biden’s American Rescue Plan proposes an extension of the tax credit for four more years through 2025, but Congress still needs to vote on that.

Senior administration officials say it is the president’s goal to see the child tax credits extended past this year and ultimately become a permanent fixture of U.S. government policy.

The Treasury Department says as much as $15 billion in funds are expected to go to the families of 60 million children, with average payments totaling up to $423 per family.

Democratic lawmakers are embracing the idea that these child tax credits will go far in tackling the nation’s long fought battle against child poverty.

“The expansion of the Child Tax Credit is one of the single biggest investments we’ve made in American families and children in generations, benefitting 96% of families with kids,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., in a statement. “Now, we must seize the opportunity to make it permanent.”

The Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University found that the child tax credits could cut child poverty by more than half.

“We also know that families living below the poverty line are over 40 times more likely to enter the child welfare system than those above the poverty line,” said Laura Boyd, a public policy specialist with the Family Centered Treatment Foundation. “We have an ability and a moral obligation as a society to empower families, and the child tax credit is certainly one thing that will do that.”

Republican lawmakers have proposed their own payments for children and aren’t expected to move forward with a $3.5 trillion budget deal proposed by Democrats to extend the child tax credit.

The Federal Reserve found in a 2019 study that some 40% of Americans don’t have up to $400 in the bank to cover an emergency expense.

“We think it’s absolutely vital that it continue,” said John Sciamanna, vice president of public policy at the Child Welfare League of America. “This could be one of the most significant family supporting initiatives that we’ve ever dealt with in terms of the child welfare field. Poverty creates a range of factors and stressors on families.”

The Treasury Department estimates that families containing more than 26 million children who would have received less than the full child tax credit under the previous rules because their incomes were too low will now receive the full, expanded credit.

But millions of Americans who work in the cash economy and did not submit a tax return, which is how the Internal Revenue Service will determine eligibility for the credits, stand to miss out on these payments if they don’t register through agency’s non-filer portal.

An administration official said that the White House is coordinating an effort across Treasury and the IRS to identify and reach-out to non-filers who are likely to be eligible for these payments.

The White House coordinated effort will also seek to identify families of children that may be eligible by looking at individuals signed up for government welfare programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) aimed at low-income households and focusing on high poverty zip codes, in addition to non-profit outreach.

The White House also hopes that its partnership efforts with children’s advocacy groups, women’s organizations, and faith-based organizations will help in identifying the estimated more than seven million children who won’t automatically receive the child tax benefit.

An IRS spokesman, in a statement, said that the agency is partnering with “non-profit organizations, churches, community groups and others hosted events in 12 cities last weekend to help people who don’t normally file a federal tax return to register for the monthly advance child tax credit payments.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki argued Thursday that it is only a small percentage of Americans who will not automatically receive the payments, but that the administration would continue to work at reaching those Americans, pointing to previous efforts to get stimulus payments out to individuals who didn’t pay taxes earlier this year.

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