It didn’t need to be this way.
As NPR reports, childhood poverty rates have skyrocketed over the last year:
The poverty rate in the U.S. has risen dramatically in the year since pandemic benefits ran out — and the child poverty rate has more than doubled, according to U.S. Census Bureau’s annual data on poverty, income and health insurance released Tuesday.
Just a year ago, child poverty hit a historic low of 5.2%. The latest figures put it at 12.4%, the same as the overall poverty rate. The surge happened as record inflation was rising and a lot of pandemic relief was running out, but Census officials and other experts say a key was the child tax credit…
…Parents overwhelmingly used that extra tax credit money on household essentials like rent and food, according to surveys. [Pols emphasis]
The Expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) has long been one of Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet’s signature issues. It was a win-win issue that is rare in politics these days: The program was wildly successful and it helped ensure Bennet’s re-election in 2022. But funding for the CTC was not renewed beyond 2021, in part because West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin wanted to see a stricter work requirement attached to the benefits. Manchin bought into the old Republican canard that federal aid money is just used to buy drugs for people on welfare, yada, yada (there is no reliable data to support this idea).
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has floated his own idea of tying work requirements to a smaller CTC, which also misses the point of this program in a very obvious manner: People who have good-paying jobs wouldn’t have the same need for the expanded CTC. The point is to help children, who aren’t working full-time jobs and have no control of the employment of their parents.
Dylan Matthews of Vox.com explained last year why the expanded CTC was so important:
Before Biden came into office, the credit maxed out at $2,000 per child ($1,400 for kids in families too poor to owe income tax), was bundled with tax refunds, and specifically left out families with little or no earnings. About one-third of children were excluded from the full credit, including over half of Black and Hispanic children, as well as 70 percent of kids raised by single moms. That’s precisely the population in most need of financial help.
The Biden changes dramatically increased the credit to $3,000 per kid aged 6 and over, and $3,600 per kid under 6; paid it out monthly; and made the full credit available to all poor children, eliminating the previous “phase-in” rule that capped the credit at 15 percent of a family’s income.
President Biden publicly called for a renewal of the expanded CTC earlier this week. On Wednesday, Senator Bennet made another plea for support at a press conference:
We know without a shadow of a doubt that the expanded #ChildTaxCredit worked. But Congress turned its back on America’s kids by letting it expire. As a result, child poverty more than doubled last year.
Congress must restore this lifeline for America’s working families. pic.twitter.com/hpayE4QfNg
— Michael Bennet (@SenatorBennet) September 14, 2023
There may be no better example of how Congress gets in its own way than the failure to continue a program that dropped child poverty rates to an historic low level of 5.2%.
The expanded CTC worked. We know it worked. We can PROVE that it worked.
So why can’t Congress make it work again?