Family groups aim to save child tax credit

Family groups from the left and right have started lobbying on a child tax credit that is set to shrink at the end of the year, fearing the provision will get lost in the shuffle during the lame-duck session after the election.

With Republicans on Capitol Hill keen to slice the budget, the organizations are stressing that the credit is a lifeline for keeping children out of poverty.

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“These two credits are the closest things kids have to Social Security,” Bruce Lesley, the president of the child advocacy group First Focus, said about the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit. “And even so, they account for just a fraction of the costs of raising a child.”

To get their message out, the family organizations are reaching out to lawmakers about the importance of the preserving the credit at current levels.

The Family Research Council, a prominent social-conservative group, circulated a Tax Day petition that urged Congress to not only extend the credit but also expand it.

“We can expect lawmakers to pontificate about fairness and take a few election-year roll calls, but don’t expect any serious efforts to be made in addressing this important issue,” Tony Perkins, the group’s president, wrote to supporters. “That is why we need your help.”

The child tax credit was implemented during the Clinton administration, then doubled to its current level of as much as $1,000 per child when Congress enacted the first round of the Bush tax cuts in 2001.

According to projections from the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, 35 million families were expected to put in for $52 billion worth of child tax credit claims in 2011. 

First Focus and other family groups cite statistics saying that 1.3 million children were kept out of poverty in 2009 through the child tax credit.

With all that in mind, some Republicans say that the groups are worrying too much. 

Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said Republicans were opposed to letting current levels of the child tax credit lapse. The GOP also pressed to continue the current credit before it was extended in the 2010 lame-duck tax deal. 

“Republicans are working to prevent the largest tax increase in history so that no family is hit with a tax hike come Jan. 1, 2013,” said a spokeswoman for the House Ways and Means Committee

On the Democratic side, President Obama proposed making the current $1,000 credit permanent in his latest budget, and he has endorsed lower income thresholds that were enacted in the 2009 stimulus package.

But family groups say the uncertainty of the upcoming lame-duck session has them on high alert. 

With much of Washington already in campaign mode, Congress is expected to get little done before November’s election. And with the post-election session likely to concentrate on the Bush-era tax rates and a round of automatic spending cuts, family groups are concerned their tax credit might fall through the cracks. 

Those groups are keeping watch because Republicans have already targeted tax incentives for children in recent months as they search for budget savings.

“That makes it much more difficult,” Lesley said. “It’d be one thing if we were just trying to extend it. But now we’re on the defensive side, too, having to play both agendas.”

The House Ways and Means Committee cleared a measure last week that requires taxpayers claiming what is known as the additional child tax credit (ACTC) to supply a Social Security number. 

That proposal, which Ways and Means says will save $7.6 billion over a decade, is one of a string of House GOP measures that is meant to scrap the automatic defense cuts set in motion by the failure of the supercommittee last year. There is no process for those offsets to move forward, given that the Senate is not completing its own budget.

GOP lawmakers also pushed to have a similar proposal included in the deal to extend the current payroll tax cut, with the House tucking the provision into legislation it passed last December.

Republicans have said their proposal would help keep illegal immigrants from receiving government checks because of the refundable tax credit, and that it would implement procedures already in place for the earned income tax credit. 

The push from Republicans comes after a Treasury inspector general report last year found that unauthorized workers claimed $4.2 billion worth of ACTC credits in 2010.

According to the IRS, those who receive less than the maximum amount of the child tax credit can obtain the additional child tax credit. 

Some faith and family groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), say that the GOP initiative would deny necessities like food and clothing to children — 4 of 5 of whom are U.S. citizens. 

For right now, Kathy Saile, USCCB’s director of domestic social development, says that the group is focusing its efforts on that tax credit proposal and cuts to food stamps and other social programs that are part of the House Republicans’ budget efforts.

Boehner pushed back against those efforts last week, saying the bishops needed to understand that the entire safety net could go down if the country didn’t strengthen its fiscal situation. 

But Saile says that group’s current work is a signal to Congress that, if need be, it will also lobby hard to ensure that the current child tax credit is extended in the lame-duck session.

“The bishops will continue to be consistent on our moral criteria and the need to protect the poor and the vulnerable,” she said.

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