Congress must act to end poverty for kids
Let’s dispense with the false assumptions first. President Joe Biden isn’t pushing some subversive “welfare” scheme to pay low-income parents not to work. And the Republicans who oppose Biden’s child tax credit expansion don’t enjoy seeing millions of American children mired in poverty.
People on both sides understand that our children are the future of this nation, and if they lack enough to eat, if they have to miss school to help their families make ends meet, if they fall far short of their potential because of poverty, we all pay. We will see the consequences in everything from our jobless numbers to our crime rates.
No compassionate, thinking American is happy that our country, one of the richest in the world, also has one of the highest child poverty rates.
One in six children in this country lives in poverty. More than 12 million live in households without enough food. Many are on the edge of homelessness.
There’s no disagreement that children are needlessly suffering and struggling in a country that can more than afford to help. The question is how to help. That’s where Democrats and Republicans in Washington disagree.
But it’s only an insurmountable barrier if elected leaders let partisan politics obscure their obvious common ground.
Biden’s sweeping, historic, potentially transformative proposal to increase the child tax credit and extend it to the poorest American families could cut child poverty in the United States by half, according to a Columbia University study.
Under the proposal, low- and moderateincome families would receive $3,600 for each child under 6, and $3,000 for children ages 6 to 17, compared to the current limit of $2,000 per family. Instead of claiming the credit on tax returns, families would receive monthly payouts.
Currently, a family making under $2,500 doesn’t benefit from the tax credit and the full amount does not kick in until a family’s income reaches nearly $12,000. That means no or reduced credits for more than one-third of American children — including half of Black and Latino children, according to the Columbia University study.
The proposal has drawn predictable objections from Republicans just by the nature of being part of Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to help with pandemic recovery. Some Republicans have begun branding it a “giveaway” welfare expansion and claiming the targeted payments for children could discourage parents from working.
There’s no evidence of that. Unlike the much-maligned pre-reform welfare system that phased out benefits as even meager pay rose, Biden’s plan has a much higher income threshold before phase-outs begin. And yes, while families that report no income will receive credits, the vast majority have one or both parents working.
They’re cashiers, child care workers, cooks, home health aides.
“This is something that is so essential,” says Bob Sanborn, president and CEO of Children at Risk in Houston. “This should be a time where we all say ‘Hey, this is great for kids, great for working families. It’s exactly what’s going to work in America.’”
The tax credit should appeal to conservatives because “you’re working within the system, working within Republican parameters,” Sanborn said. “There’s no doubt there’s going to be a parent who’s going to abuse this in some way. There are parents who abuse money, no matter what the income level. … But we know, by and large, this is going to be fantastic.”
The plan does come with a hefty price tag — estimated at about $120 billion this year. But the price of leaving children and their families to linger in poverty is much greater. It’s time for this country to take bold action that would also lift up struggling middle income families and the economy as a whole.
The National Academy of Sciences found that childhood poverty costs the United States between $800 billion and $1.1 trillion annually by limiting lifetime earnings and increasing illnesses, homelessness, child abuse and neglect, and crime.
Cash payments have clearly worked to fight poverty in other countries: In Canada, expanding the child credit programs helped reduce the poverty rate by 20 percent between 2015 and 2017. Countries with the lowest poverty rates, including Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, also give families cash payments to offset the costs of raising children.
This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, has also proposed an overhaul of the tax credit program that would increase the credit to $4,200 a year for children under 6 and $3,000 for those ages 6 to 17. We are wary of Romney’s plan, though, because it’s not clear whether it would actually lead to a net benefit for families since Romney proposes cutting safety net programs, such as food assistance and other tax credits for children and working families.
But Biden and other Democrats should adopt Romney’s idea to make the child tax credit expansion permanent. The needs of children will not end when the pandemic does.
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children,” Nelson Mandela once noted. Our country has failed its children for too long. Congress must not let this moment — and the call to lift children and their families out of poverty — go unanswered.