A few months into the school year, parents may finally feel like they’re in a better rhythm of sleep schedules, drop-offs, pick-ups, and after-school activities.

But far too many are still recovering from the extra expenses the start of each school year brings. From a long list of supplies to costly uniforms, families with kids in school spent about $864 on average getting their kids everything they need this year.

And those costs can continue to pile up over the year.

I remember when my kids started kindergarten and the teacher provided a list of supplies students would need — pencils, pencil cases, erasers, notebooks, folders, tissue paper, paper towels. And each year the list grew longer.

Public school wasn’t as free as I thought, I realized. As a single parent, I had to apply for credit while stretching out my thin budget for food and shelter.

Every year I got the back-to-school blues. I was often spending close to $500 for each child — and that didn’t include the cost of uniforms, which at one point were required in our local public school system.

My kids are grown now, but many families are still struggling. They need no-strings-attached funds they can use for school-related expenses, household essentials, or anything else their family needs. This would be possible by making programs such as the expanded Child Tax Credit permanent.

This fall, U.S. Census Bureau data clearly illustrated the dramatic impact these programs can have on children and families. Between 2020 and 2021, child poverty fell to its lowest level on record.

This reinforces the reports we’ve already seen about the impact the expanded Child Tax Credit had on reducing poverty. Data has shown that families spent most of the money they received from this tax credit on necessities like food and utilities — and school supplies.

But the Child Tax Credit isn’t the only option. We’ve seen similar results from communities that have implemented pilot programs for universal basic income, where participants have experienced more financial stability and improved mental and physical well-being.

A federal universal basic income program would make a huge difference for families, allowing them some financial breathing room to pay for things like school supplies without anxiety — or the need to take out a loan.

Anyone with kids knows the stress of getting them to school on time, without a fight, with everything they need, and then getting to work on time. There’s no reason parents should have the added stress of empty pockets when they work so hard.

Our government has the funds we need to let millions of parents breathe easier.

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Eileen Sepulveda

Eileen Sepulveda is a writer based in New York. This op-ed was adapted from a longer essay at ChangeWire.org and distributed for syndication by OtherWords.org.

Eileen’s full-res headshot is available here.

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