Since July, the lives of tens of millions of children across the U.S. have gotten better thanks to one simple government program: the expanded child tax credit. The last monthly payment included in the American Rescue Plan went out on Wednesday, though, virtually guaranteeing that 36 million households will not get a check in January. If the Senate does not pass a version of Build Back Better soon, those 36 million households will be waiting longer—or forever.
“I'm afraid,” Tory Miesko, a Pennsylvania single mother and full-time office administrator, told Good Morning America. “I'm trying to keep my sons out of poverty.”
“Parents are heading into the new year with no idea whether they’ll be able to put food on the table for their children, keep their babies in clean diapers, or pay rent to keep a roof over their family’s heads,” Patricia Cole, senior director of federal policy at the child advocacy group Zero to Three, told NBC News.
She’s not exaggerating. When the monthly child tax credit checks started in July, it quickly brought 3 million children out of poverty according to one estimate, and kept 2 million children from food insecurity, according to another. But that’s not all.
The Brookings Institution reported on a poll of a nationally representative group of parents eligible for the tax credit showing families planned to use the checks—$300 for the youngest children and $250 for children between 6 and 17—for a wide range of needs. Two out of three said they planned to use the checks for routine expenses; 58% said they would buy essential items for children; 49% were going to get more or better food. The money was going to the most basic needs, in other words. But families also planned to use the money to try to get ahead: At 75%, the most common plan was building emergency savings, while 42% planned to start or grow a college fund for their kids. Unfortunately, too many families may need to dip right into those emergency savings when the checks stop.
Other common plans for the tax credit included paying for child activities (42%), moving or making home improvements (32%), health care expenses (29%), and child care expenses (26%).
Importantly, while “Families across the income spectrum planned to use the CTC to build emergencies savings at similar rates,” in other cases, families at different income levels had different plans. No surprise: Lower-income families were more likely to plan to use their tax credit for routine expenses, essential items, and getting more or better food. Lower-income families were also more likely to plan to use the money on child care, spending more time with their children, and hiring tutors for their children.
Looking ahead to the likely lapse of the payments, the family advocacy group ParentsTogether Action surveyed its members (a much less representative group than the poll just discussed), finding that about half said it would be more difficult to meet basic needs if the advance monthly payments stop, while 35% said they would not be able to meet basic needs, and 32% said they wouldn’t be able to afford food for their kids.
Julie Callahan, a mother of one, saw her family’s income cut in half when she had to go on bed rest during a pregnancy. “It's just been a comfort for us knowing that we can have an extra income when I physically cannot work and that income can go exclusively to my child,” she told Georgia Public Broadcasting.
Hannah Ochoa, a mother of four who got the child tax credit just after her fiancé broke both hands and couldn’t work, said, “If that hadn't happened, when it did, when he broke his hands, I would have just dropped to my knees and cried. I didn't want to watch my kids suffer anymore.”
Lawmakers should take notice—especially Sen. Joe "Bullshit" Manchin as he holds up the Build Back Better bill that would continue the expanded child tax credit.
”Politicians might not get the chance to talk to people one-on-one about the impact that it makes, but it definitely has made a huge impact for families like mine,” Callahan said. “The longer it takes, the more I feel like people want to get discouraged or give up. And this is really important. I don't think that anybody should give up their fight in it because it's really made a difference.”