For six months, around 36 million families with kids got a lifeline: expanded child tax credit checks of $250 a month for kids aged six to 17, and $300 for younger kids, amounting to an average of $444 per month. Those payments would have been going out this weekend, but the tax credit lapsed thanks to every single Senate Republican and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.
The program has been massively successful, lifting millions of children out of poverty and reducing food insecurity in households with children. It took one program less than six months to accomplish that, and it takes just a few overwhelmingly wealthy people to end it.
Polls have found that people were spending the money on essentials like food, utility payments, rent, and clothing. But what people who’ve relied on the tax credits convey is also that being able to pay for those things gave them peace of mind and stability that they’d lacked.
Andy Roberts, a retired auto dealer caring for two grandchildren whose parents are struggling with drug addiction, told the Associated Press that the payments had been a “godsend,” allowing his grandchildren to do activities like Girl Scouts and ballet lessons. Losing the payments will “make you tighten up your belt, if you’ve got anything to tighten,” he said.
Roberts is from Manchin’s home state of West Virginia, where more than 90% of children—305,000 of them—were eligible for the tax credit. So is Chelsea Woody, a single mother who works six days a week as a hairdresser and used the money to help pay for daycare and buy her kid clothes.
“It truly helps out a lot. It’s an extra cushion, instead of me worrying how I’m going to pay a bill or if anything comes up,” Woody told the AP. “It’s helpful for a lot of people. It helps working families out because we struggle the most. I’m hardly home with my kid because I work all the time.”
When West Virginia yoga studio manager Krista Greene had to take unpaid time off work while her kids were home on a COVID-19 quarantine, “The first thing I said to my husband was, ‘The Biden bucks are coming next week, so I won’t miss any bills,” she told The Guardian.
Single mother Queentia Ellis was able to go to college full-time thanks to the payments. Now, she’ll have to find a job—probably at minimum wage—and scramble for child care, which, even with subsidies, “takes a toll on the income, especially if you’re working an hourly minimum wage job,” she said. “I have to figure out what and how I’m going to go about making things possible. But where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
These families and millions of others are losing money to pay for food or child care or Girl Scouts, but they’re also losing the peace of mind that came from knowing that they could pay for those things, or could weather an unpaid COVID-19 quarantine. That peace of mind is significant, and part of what rich politicians—like Manchin—are saying when they argue that relief should require jumping through hoops or proving your virtue is that struggling families should always be scared, should always feel that they’re right on the brink of hunger or loss. It’s a cruel stance, but it’s the norm in the Republican Party and unfortunately isn’t absent in the Democratic Party.
As a final note, many families will also be eligible for an increased refund when they do their 2021 income taxes—the monthly checks were just half of the expanded credit. If you got the child tax credit payments, look for a letter from the Internal Revenue Service with information about what you’re owed and how to claim it.