This summer marked a milestone anniversary in the history of American anti-poverty programs: two years ago, the first monthly payments of the expanded Child Tax Credit went out to millions of households.
The expansion had deep roots in the welfare rights movement, including the powerful organizing of poor mothers and caregivers who insisted for decades that poor and low-income people didn’t need to prove their worthiness to receive government assistance.
When the credit went into effect, nearly all families with children in this country started receiving monthly tax credits of up to $300 per child — without having to “prove” their poverty or employment status.
The effects were noticeable immediately.
Millions of children were lifted above the poverty line and racial inequities among poor children began to narrow. New research from Economic Security Project Action shows that the monthly payments served as a buffer against inflation, providing enough support for many families to cover rising costs — without increasing inflationary pressures — while generating nearly $20 billion of economic activity every month.
Despite these successes, lawmakers allowed the program to lapse at the end of 2021. Within weeks, millions of children fell back below the poverty line.
Meanwhile other pandemic support programs — including expansions of unemployment insurance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, SNAP, and Medicaid, as well as economic stimulus checks and eviction protections — have also come to an end.
As a result, food and housing insecurity rates are climbing, millions of people are preparing to lose their health care as Medicaid “winds down,” and child poverty rates are back up to pre-pandemic levels. Indeed, over 18 million children no longer qualify to receive the full credit.
Given these worsening conditions, it’s no surprise why the expanded credit remains popular across party lines. In fact, both Democratic and Republican parents polled in 2023 preferred a child credit that did not have any work or income requirements by a margin of 2 to 1.
Earlier this year, I participated in a roundtable discussion on the expanded Child Tax Credit at the Society for Research in Child Development’s annual conference.
Alongside the research team from Children’s HealthWatch and Revolutionary Healing, we shared key findings from our joint report, “I Didn’t Have to Worry,” with researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Syracuse University, New York University, and the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
“We have to track what happens in this period, not only in the short-term when these programs work, but also when they are cut back,” said Dr. Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba, executive director of Children’s HealthWatch. “And we need policies that work the hardest to reach the most marginalized people, across generations. When we do that, we make policy better for everyone — and everyone does better.”
As we’ve learned from the welfare rights movement and decades of poor people-led organizing, the best policies are anchored in the lives and realities of those most in need of them — those who are intimately aware of what’s necessary to end our suffering.
Although it ended prematurely, the expanded Child Tax Credit was effective because it came out of a lineage connected to poor and dispossessed people, organizing for our right to fare well. And that’s exactly why we should bring it back.