Four years is not enough — Congress should make the child tax credit permanent
One in five children in America live in poverty. Many are hungry every day. One in 30 are homeless. A majority of these families are people of color. For parents, raising a family while struggling with poverty is unremitting, burdensome and punishing. It may also generate feelings of shame and inadequacy.
President Biden’s four-year extension of the new $3,000 child tax credit in his American Families Plan is an important step forward in the fight to support low-income families. But the reality is that, despite our best efforts, we’re not going to solve the underlying drivers of poverty and economic injustice by 2025 and a four-year extension simply isn’t enough to curb childhood poverty long term. In four years, families of color will still face systemic racism in the job market; Black and brown students will still confront an unlevel playing field in school, and the unrelenting cycle of generational poverty will still entrap children through no fault of their own as they grow into adulthood.
To make a permanent dent in combating childhood poverty, Congress needs to make the expanded child tax credit permanent, without delay. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, recently introduced the Building an Economy for Families Act, which would make permanent expansions to tax credits introduced in President Biden’s COVID-19 relief package. Congress must move this bill forward. After generations of injustice, this is America’s moment to make a long, long-overdue change.
Black and brown families have been set up to fail in our nation through systemic and institutional racism and the resulting, intended inequities. Their children, in turn, have faced life-altering trauma at every turn, making them far more likely to remain in poverty as adults. As our country continues to reckon with systemic racism and white supremacy, anti-poverty measures that strengthen all families should be a top priority.
It cannot be overstated how poverty threatens a child’s basic safety and well-being. The stress and uncertainty of economic precarity threaten two of the most important factors for child development: stability and secure attachment. Caregivers are overwhelmed and anxious. Their children, through no fault of their own, may not have access to high-quality medical care, healthy food, good schools, or stable housing. This is something we see all too often in child welfare — the vast majority of parents know what their kids need, they just lack the means to provide it.
Increasing resource equity is one of the most direct ways to support at-risk families. During the first months of the pandemic, our preventive programs at JCCA experienced a remarkable increase in engagement with families, despite the challenges of social distancing and virtual services. This would have been surprising if we had not been able to provide unprecedented financial and material emergency assistance to families, thanks to the tremendous generosity of our donors. This support engendered genuine trust among our clients, improving engagement and therapeutic outcomes. By bringing families relief in the face of unemployment, illness, and isolation, we can stabilize and empower caregivers far more effectively.
Effective anti-poverty efforts lie in fortifying a family’s ability to overcome these barriers and to determine their own success: through direct cash assistance, fully funded mental health programs, and investments in community programs that can support families without the scrutiny and bias of child welfare.
President Biden’s four-year expansion of the child tax credit will be vital to our nation’s recovery in the short term. But our families also need long-term, comprehensive anti-poverty measures to help them break the generational cycle of poverty and start to uproot long-standing economic and racial inequalities. Congress should pass the Building an Economy for Families Act and make the expanded child tax credit permanent. From the New Deal to Operation Warp Speed, we have seen how dramatic public investment can bring us out of crisis. As a post-pandemic future looms ever closer, we must reimagine the possibilities for young people who lived in crisis long before 2020.
Cutting poverty in half for four years isn’t enough to promote and stabilize poor families, especially families of color. We need to make a long-term commitment. Now is the time to end child poverty for good.
Ronald Richter IS CEO of JCCA, one of NYC’s largest child welfare agencies, and former commissioner of New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.