In the spring of 2021, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was a worried man. In a book published this week,This won’t pass“, New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns report that the Senate Minority Leader told friends he thought the temporarily expanded child tax credit would be so popular that even if Republicans retook the House in the 2022 election, it would be too late to reverse the bill.The measure put hundreds of dollars a month in the pockets of American families and resulted in an almost immediate loss double digit drop the number of children living in poverty. How could Republicans counter that?
Reviews | Why success couldn’t save Biden’s child tax credit expansion
He was wrong. The expansion was allowed to expire in December. Millions of homes fell back into poverty as quickly as they were removed. The only scandal was that, contrary to McConnell’s fears, it wasn’t a scandal at all.
Instead, the tax credit saga has instead demonstrated that America’s stated devotion to children is often cheap sentiment. In the face of evidence that a few extra hundred dollars vastly improves child welfare, we continue to choose to keep our country’s wallets tight.
Two recently published reports — one of Brookings Institutionthe other of the Center for Law and Social Policy – show how much expansion child tax creditpassed as part of President Biden’s U.S. bailout late winter last year, was for millions of American families, providing not only cash but security on multiple fronts.
A reminder of how it all worked: Households earning less than $150,000 a year received $3,600 for children under six and $3,000 for those seven and older, much of money from a monthly allowance. High-income households received cash on a sliding scale. In all, almost nine out of 10 families with children under 18 received money from the program. (My husband and I were, for a short time, one of them – we got exactly one check before our youngest son got old.)
Studies show that families used the temporary monthly allowance to pay for everyday household expenses, including rent, school supplies and extracurricular activities, and food – families receiving the credit said they ate more balanced meals. (Yes, slightly more fast food was consumed compared to households that did not receive the benefit, but so was more protein, fruit and vegetables.)
In fact, when Brookings compared households receiving the child tax credit to those not eligible, they found that those receiving the de facto allowance were more likely to pay their credit card bills and less likely to use payday loans to get by. Their chances of being deported were less. They were also less likely to resort to such desperate measures as selling their blood plasma to raise funds.
Nonetheless, Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.), in particular, encouraged people to believe in the myth of the lazy, lazy parent living high on the government hog. HuffPost reported that Manchin privately told people he thought the families would use the money to buy drugs.
Manchin was far from the only villain here. Polls showed that many did not wish to see the measure enacted permanently. (Seniors were particularly against it.) It is true that Americans are always wary of someone receiving a helping hand – but, in this case, the people helped were often us, or our family members or friends. It didn’t seem to matter. The fact that millions of families are now fall back into precarious living conditions hardly arouses any indignation.
Attempts to bring back expansion seem doomed. The White House is increasingly convinced that Manchin does not want to make any deal on Biden’s Build Back Better bill, which would have renewed the policy. As for the expanded child tax credit legislation sponsored by Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah), he would not only need to attract bipartisan support – which is highly unlikely – he contains a poison pill for Democrats in the form of a complete elimination of the federal tax break for up to 10 $000 in state and local taxes.
It’s all penny-wise but pound-senseless. As I pointed out last year, academic research shows that income support for families leads to everything from improved infant birth weight for best high school graduation rates, as well as an increased likelihood of going to college. This, in turn, will massively benefit all of us.
But none of these potential benefits can overcome our indifference to helping children and families. Look at our dismal record. We are the only first world nation that does not mandate paid family leave for new moms. We undergo the highest infant mortality rate of our peer countries. We pay their teachers less than others with similar credentials, and our country’s response to the mass school shootings is to offer thoughts and prayers.
When looked at through this prism, it’s no surprise that the expanded child tax credit has been allowed to expire. That never happened.