My view: Reinstate Child Tax Credit right away
This holiday season will be hard for many Oregon children and their families. Although worries around the pandemic have begun to recede, families are now caught in a wave of rising prices. And unlike last year, they must figure out how to stay afloat without a lifejacket Congress had made available.
That lifejacket was the enhanced Child Tax Credit that Congress enacted in the spring of 2021, a policy that showed great success in shoring up families surviving on low wages. Congress, regrettably, let the improved Child Tax Credit lapse.
But there is still time to act. In the weeks that remain of the current Congress, all of Oregon's congressional delegation should be pushing hard to ensure that families can count once again on the enhanced Child Tax Credit.
In the last federal emergency legislation enacted in 2021, Congress improved the Child Tax Credit in several ways. Lawmakers increased the amount of the credit per child, while also making it so that families received a portion of the credit every month, helping them cover their ongoing expenses.
And just as crucially, Congress reworked the credit so that the lowest-paid families got the full benefit. Prior to this, the families with the fewest resources received little or nothing from the Child Tax Credit because their incomes were too low. The change allowed low-paid families to get the same amount as all other families.
These reforms were an instant success. Childhood poverty nationally plummeted 40% last year, the biggest drop ever recorded. Census figures show that low-income families used the extra resources to pay for basics such as housing, food, clothes and school supplies. The enhanced credit made a big difference in the lives of millions of families.
The enhanced Child Tax Credit also proved to be the kind of policy that can help heal our nation's racial divide. Because of centuries of exploitation and discrimination — from slavery, to segregation, to disinvestment in certain communities — people of color are more likely to work in low-paid jobs than white Americans. They are more likely to endure poverty. The enhanced Child Tax Credit lifted out of poverty children of all races, especially Black and brown kids.
But Congress only made the improvements to the Child Tax Credit temporary, and they expired at the end of last year. As a result, 19 million children across the country now face greater economic hardship, having lost access to all or part of the credit.
In Oregon, the expiration of the improvements to the Child Tax Credit is making life harder for some 192,000 children, whose families must now do with fewer resources at a time of rising prices. That's about one-fifth of all of the children in our state. Or to put that in perspective, it's more than all of the children living in Multnomah County.
Rural Oregon will feel the lapsing of the enhanced Child Tax Credit hardest. About 30% of children in rural parts of the state are losing all or part of the Child Tax Credit, compared to 22% of children in urban areas.
Ultimately, failing to reinstate the enhanced Child Tax Credit would be a national tragedy. It would mean not only greater present-day suffering for millions of our children, but also lower levels of educational attainment and poorer health and reduced incomes in adulthood. That is an outcome that affects us all.
Hope remains that Congress will get its act together and reinstate the enhanced Child Tax Credit. It is heartening to hear Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, say that the Child Tax Credit will be "front and center" of discussions around an end-of-year fiscal package. That is as it should be.
But ensuring that this vital piece of legislation makes it through to the finish line is going to require all of us to do our part. Now is the time to demand our congressional delegation push hard for the reinstatement of the enhanced Child Tax Credit.
Alejandro Queral is executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy.
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