By Suzan K. DelBene
In early 2020, Wendy and her family moved to the Pacific Northwest for her husband’s new job. She was planning to look for a new job herself until the pandemic hit; finding child care became impossible, as many programs closed due to the virus. Wendy ended up watching her kids for many months, preventing her from looking for a new job. On a single income, she and her husband had to significantly whittle down their savings.
This fall, Wendy found a new job, but signing the couple’s two kids up for child care was still nearly impossible on their budget. She had to pay for two months of child care, which cost her family over $4,000. It was a struggle for Wendy’s family—until the new monthly Child Tax Credit payments began this summer. The regular checks helped her make ends meet so she could finally afford the child care they needed, which allowed her to return to work.
Wendy’s story is emblematic of so many other parents across the country. The monthly Child Tax Credit payments are supporting 36 million families, thanks to President Biden’s American Rescue Plan. Parents tell me regularly that these monthly checks of up to $300 per child are helping them cover the essentials of caring for their families. That includes paying for child care like Wendy, buying gas or fixing a car, putting healthy food on the table, and affording clothes for their growing kids.
Simply put, the Child Tax Credit is helping parents care for their kids and allowing them to get back to work.
The enhanced Child Tax Credit is a historic tax cut for American families, benefiting 60 million kids across the country. I am one of the authors of the expanded benefit and what distinguishes this tax credit from others is that it is paid in advance. Typically, tax credits are claimed when someone files their taxes each year. But any parent knows all too well that bills don’t only come once a year. Sending the credit in monthly payments helps cover those regular bills and emergency expenses that families often face. We also made the credit fully refundable, so parents who don’t make enough money can get the full amount.
In just a few months, the enhanced benefit is already making an incredible difference for families and our economy. 3.3 million more parents say they can now put enough food on the table for their kids. Meanwhile, this policy is estimated to boost family spending by $27 billion this year and support over 500,000 full-time jobs.
This week’s payment is the last one from the American Rescue Plan and millions of families continue to rely on them. The moderate 97-member New Democrat Coalition that I lead made extending these payments one of our top priorities in the Build Back Better Act, because it is providing an immediate benefit to families. We secured another year of them in the House-passed version of the bill. While I fought for a longer extension, another year of these checks will still be transformational and give families more predictability and stability. The bill also makes child care more affordable, including universal pre-K, supporting parents in many ways throughout their childrens’ lives.
Some who disagree with this policy argue that continuing these monthly payments discourages parents from getting back to work. But nothing could be further from the truth: Nearly 94 percent of parents are doing the same amount of work or more because of these monthly payments.
Others argue that we should include a work requirement to force parents back into the workforce. Before July, the Child Tax Credit effectively had a work requirement, because parents needed to have enough taxable income to count the credit against. We left behind one-in-three children as a result.
This idea also fails to capture the changing nature of the American family. In 2018, nearly 4 million grandparents were caring for a grandchild and not working. Additionally, almost 5 million undergraduate college students are raising a child. Adding a work requirement to this benefit would take these payments away from millions of kids whose families need it the most.
The incredible amount of data available on the Child Tax Credit all leads to the same conclusion: The monthly payments are empowering parents to provide for their children so they can return to work.
For millions of parents like Wendy, this policy has been a lifeline. Congress cannot let down these families, especially now. We must pass the Build Back Better Act before the end of the year so these payments continue, kids can succeed, and more parents can get back to work.
Congresswoman Suzan K. DelBene is the United States Representative from Washington’s 1st congressional district.
The views in this article are the writer’s own.