Miserly Manchin stole Christmas and hope from American families

Last week marked the last enhanced monthly child tax credit payment to millions of disadvantaged Americans thanks to one man in Congress: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

His announcement that he will not support the Build Back Better Act will terminate this critical economic relief, which vulnerable families were counting on to help support themselves next year. 

The child tax credit expansion, part of the American Rescue Plan enacted back in March, increased the benefit from $2,000 to $3,000 — and included an additional $600 for families with kids under six during the calendar year 2021. Beyond that, it provided monthly installments of $300 to families with children under six, and $250 per month for those with kids between six and 17. It also enabled families to newly claim 17 year-olds, which they previously were unable to do. 

The government’s expansion of this policy provided a safety net for families — and that’s a good thing. An estimated 35 million families — 65 million kids — have been helped by the additional federal support. The real beneficiaries are vulnerable and underserved populations. It has helped disadvantaged families build emergency savings, pay for routine and essential expenses, buy food, pay for health care, fund child care and more.  

The Build Back Better Act sought to extend the American Rescue Plan through 2022. A key part of the bill would have made the child tax credit’s full refundability provision permanent, enabling recipient families to use it to offset taxes owed at the end of each year. This, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), could have had a profound impact in addressing one of the nation’s most difficult and complex public health issues: reducing child poverty. 

Here’s why: The CBPP found that the increased child tax credit payments alone, under the American Rescue Act, would reduce the child poverty rate by roughly five percent. But if these payments continue and the full refundability provision is made permanent, the child poverty rate would plummet by over 40 percent. It would have been a nationally significant policy that would have paid dividends for generations to come.

To this end, the child tax credit expansion helped close the racial inequity gap. Prior to the American Rescue Plan, roughly half of African and Latino American children failed to receive the full child tax credit — some none at all because their families’ earnings were too low — compared to just 20 percent of white children. Congress could have continued this policy and further balanced a disparity that historically disfavored communities of color. 

The expiration of these policies will be a massive blow to working families. The CBPP says a minimum-wage-earning single mom working full time with a toddler and a second-grader would go from receiving $6,600 this year to just $1,800 next year. As families face rising prices on everything from groceries to gas — which some experts believe could last another year — this was not the time to turn our backs on families, especially when the pandemic has no end in sight, and families are bracing for heavy economic challenges in 2022. 

One would think the opportunity to do right by American families would compel Congress to support those who will endure great hardship. Yet we find ourselves in a familiar place. After dragging his feet for weeks, Manchin has now declared he will not support the bill. A Manchin aide even canceled a scheduled meeting with constituents of his own state — 11 mothers from West Virginia — who wanted to express how the child tax credit improved their lives. 

The extension was moving children out of poverty and providing essential support to families across the country. Families in need don’t care about Republican or Democratic politics: they care about safe housing, paying their bills and feeding their children. 

There are plenty of legislative agendas that demand political chess-play by members of Congress. This was not one of them. The child tax credit should have been extended and the refundability provision made permanent. Doing so would have sent the message that the economic well-being of our country’s most disadvantaged populations matters.

Instead, Manchin has denied struggling families vital economic support which they desperately need. His role as a Democratic obstacle on spending proposals took priority over his compassion to help struggling Americans make ends meet, including those in his own state. He should be ashamed.

Lyndon Haviland, DrPH, MPH, is a distinguished scholar at the CUNY School of Public Health and Health Policy.

Tags American Rescue Plan Act Build Back Better Act Child tax credit Economic policy of the Joe Biden administration Joe Manchin Presidency of Joe Biden Tax credits Taxation in the United States

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