The Child Tax Credit is helping parents and providing hope — make it permanent | Opinion

October 7, 2021 6:00 am

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I felt like all I ever said was “No.” I made sure that I also said “I love you” often, but it still felt like “No” was all they ever heard.

When you live in poverty, the answer, nearly all of the time, has to be no. The complete answer is actually something more like “I don’t have money, and I don’t have time because all of my time is spent trying to make money.” 

But I try to shield my children from the reality of poverty, and instead just say, “No.” 

But this answer has a cost, too — my mental and physical health, and my children’s mental and physical health. 

With the passing of the expanded Child Tax Credit as part of the American Rescue Plan in March, parents like me have finally been able to breathe a whole lot easier. It expanded the Child Tax Credit to $3,600 for children under 6 and $2,000 for children 6-17. That’s at least $1,000 more per child every year than what it was. 

To some families, $1,000 isn’t much. To poor families, it is huge. In fact, it’s enough to reduce the number of children living in poverty by more than 40%. In 2019, more than 10 million children in the U.S. lived in poverty — 10 million! We are one of the wealthiest countries in the world and more than 10 million kids live in poverty. 

Poverty is exhausting. Living paycheck to paycheck is incredibly stressful. I’m not talking about having little money between paychecks. I’m talking about having zero money between paychecks. When you are back to zero only three days after getting paid, it makes you wonder, “What is the point?” 

Instead of moving forward, you feel like you’re constantly moving, and not getting anywhere. Or worse, going backward. 

Half the tax credit showing up in my bank account every month has been a game changer. It allows me to actually plan and take control of my bills. It means I don’t go down to zero. It means my phone service isn’t cut off because I can’t pay my bill. It means that for the first time in my life, I can save money. 

The tax credit makes another huge impact that many people do not realize. My family qualifies for federal assisted housing, but only if we stay within a certain income level. The stress on families of moving repeatedly cannot be underestimated. But the tax credit cannot be counted as a financial resource for at least 12 months, so we cannot be forced to move because our resources have risen above the limit, another huge relief.

Some people will argue that the child tax credit will just make me not want to work. Nothing could be further from the truth. It has made me more motivated to work. I can feel what it is like to not live in poverty, and I want to make that a reality all the time for myself and my kids. I’m excited about the possibilities. I don’t want to live in a place where I just get by anymore. I want to thrive.

For decades, almost every wealthy nation in the world has provided some form of child benefit for families. But in the U.S. the support of “family values” by our politicians seems to exist only for families who aren’t poor. In Germany, for example, parents get a monthly payment for each of their children from birth (and even through age 25 if the child is still a student!). Their government recognizes the effort and expense involved in raising children and recognizes that when they invest in kids, everyone benefits. 

The expanded Child Tax Credit is set to expire December 31. Right now, Congress is working on the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill. It has instructions that include extending the Child Tax Credit. It should be made permanent. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2020, the cost of raising a child to 18 is $233,610. It doesn’t take much math to recognize that while the cost of raising a child has skyrocketed, wages have not. It is time for the United States to catch up with the rest of the world in supporting families and make the Child Tax Credit permanent.

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Cynthia Haynes
Cynthia Haynes

Cynthia Haynes is a Minneapolis mom of three kids, ages 5, 6, and 12. She spent seven years working in child care and is currently making excellent grilled cheese sandwiches at All Square. She dreams of one day opening her own child youth center for kids from ages 0 to 18, so children can learn how to be in community with each other across their ages. She believes kids are teaching us and teaching each other all the time, and it is our job to learn from and grow with them.