Parents concerned about end of monthly child tax credit payments
Without the child tax credit, Stormy Johnson worries about having enough to eat.
Johnson, 44, works as a student support specialist at Preston County Schools in Kingwood, West Virginia. Since July, she has been receiving an extra $500 each month through the enhanced child tax credit for her two children, Violet, 14, and Tristan, 13, of whom she is the only mother.
This money helped the family stay afloat. Last year they had to move because of a fire and Johnson had to buy a new car after the engine in his blew up. With housing and vehicle costs rising, she now has $1,400 more in expenses each month than she had to pay last year, she said.
“I have $50 left before the child tax credit, and that’s just with my house, car payment, insurance and necessary utilities,” she said. “That’s before I buy food, pay gas for work, or buy toiletries.”
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If payments stop in January – as they should if Build Back Better is not passed – she will struggle to make ends meet each month.
“I’ll do what I’ve done in the past – I’m not eating so my kids can,” Johnson said.
Other parents feel the same way about the end of expanded credit. Half of those who get the credit said it would be harder to meet their family’s basic needs without the allowance, and 36% said they would no longer be able to meet those needs, according to a recent ParentsTogetherAction poll.
Since July, families of 61 million children have received advance payments on the Child Tax Credit, which this year was expanded to $3,000 from $2,000, with an additional $600 for children under 6 years. The first half was paid in the form of monthly deposits.
The last payment of the year went out on December 15 and could be the last check. Democrats included a one-year extension of the benefit in the Build Back Better plan passed by the House, but the legislation still needs to pass the Senate by Dec. 28 or there will be no difference in money.
“Families are going to be going through this holiday very stressed about the future of these checks and the rising cost of living happening around them,” said Natalie Foster, co-founder and co-chair of the Economic Security Project.
The poorest children will lose
Credit has been a lifeline for many families during the pandemic.
Melissa Boyles, 63, and her husband are currently raising their 16-year-old granddaughter, Navaeh, in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Neither Bowles nor her husband can work due to injury and illness and instead collect a disability.
They had no plans to raise a child at this point in their lives on a fixed income. The monthly payments have been a big help – in addition to using the money for extra food, Boyles was able to buy Navaeh a second-hand dress to go to her school’s homecoming prom this fall.
“That $250 means a lot,” Boyles said. She also pushed back on the idea of adding work requirements to the benefit, which was proposed by Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va..
“Why should my granddaughter or other people raising their grandchildren be excluded because we have raised our children and are no longer working or unable to work?” she said.
Without the credit, some 10 million children will fall into poverty or more into poverty, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. About 27 million children – mostly black, Latino or in rural areas – will lose the benefit entirely if it is no longer fully reimbursable, part of the improvement this year.
The poorest households will be the hardest hit. If the credit was maintained until 2022, the poorest 20% of families would have seen their incomes increase by 35%, according to a study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy
This is important for working parents who have not all been able to return to their pre-pandemic jobs and incomes.
“We’ve had strong job creation this year, but we’ve got this economy that’s taken a huge hit, and there’s still a lot of people out of work and there’s still a lot of disruption,” said Amy Hanauer, Executive Director of the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy.
Lafleur Duncan, 53, lost her job as a nanny during the pandemic and has been unable to return. Now she works to help people improve their credit, but struggles to earn a steady income, she said. Her husband, a chef who works in a corporate building, is still working reduced hours due to Covid.
Lafleur Duncan and his family. Her son’s child tax credit payments will help pay for rent, school supplies, clothing and medical expenses.
The $250 they received for her 14-year-old son was used to buy new school clothes, medicine and food. She also opened a bank account for her son and saved some of the money for him for college, she said.
“It was stopping a big hole and if they take it out it’s going to hurt us a lot,” Duncan said.
End of stability
Of course, Congress could always pass Build Back Better and extend the payments for another year. But if that action doesn’t happen by December 28, families could see a discrepancy in payments or receive checks later than usual in January.
Even the most stable households worry about the disappearance of the benefit. Stefanie Cuene, 45, lives with her two children, ages 7 and 10, in Scottsdale, Arizona. Cuene, who works in communications, doesn’t necessarily rely on payments every month, she said, but still uses the money for her children.
She is happy to have a safety net. Cuene divorced in 2019 and therefore lives only on her income. Additionally, she was laid off twice during the pandemic, and spells of unemployment eroded her savings.
“It made me realize how quickly it can go from just fine to being in debt and not being able to provide for my kids anymore,” she said, adding that knowing that money arrives every month ensures the stability of his family.
Marla Snead (right), with her daughters Kelsie Dillard (left) and Carlee Turner.
The end of the benefit will mean that some families will lose the stability they have gained over the past six months.
The $250 Marla Snead, 52, received for her 14-year-old daughter, Carlee, was a godsend, she said. She used the money for necessities such as food, clothing and school supplies, as well as birthday and Christmas gifts, said Snead, who lives in Chesapeake, West Virginia.
“It literally makes me anxious,” Snead said of the potentially disappearing payments. “I was able to get her the things she needs and deserves. I don’t want that to go away.”
Snead is also battling cancer and living on Social Security benefits.
“I don’t want to have to look her in the eye and tell her no when she needs anything,” Snead said.
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