Right around the time I heard lawmakers were considering a year-end package of tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations, my 12-year-old son’s bike broke. It felt like just another thing I couldn’t fix for him.

Yet here are our lawmakers “fixing” things for those with the fewest problems. That’s unacceptable when there are so many ordinary families who need help.

I know what it’s like to pull myself up by my bootstraps — I’ve had to do it again and again. But I also know how far even a little help can go.

I grew up in Brazil, where my mother instilled in my siblings and me the value of hard work and education. I worked my way into law school, where I met a man from the United States. We fell in love, married, and had a child. I moved with him to Virginia to go to college and raise our family.

It felt like I was doing everything right… but things went wrong. When my husband developed a substance abuse problem and became aggressive, I had to flee with my child to a local YWCA for refuge.

I dropped out of school to get more jobs and scraped together enough to pay for rent, apply for Pell grants, and get back into school. But when I got back together with my husband during a period of sobriety for him, we ended up worse off than before. He lost our money and the car, leaving me with car payments and no transportation.

Yet I kept going with classes and work, biking my son to his school. I house-sat, couch-hopped, got a cheap car, and worked for DoorDash. I finally graduated and started work as a research fellow in neuroscience.

But the bills kept coming, not least for my $58,000 in student loans. I still didn’t have enough to feed my child properly or buy those little extra things he wanted or needed. I lived in constant fear of any small financial emergency. The food pantry became a saving grace for us.

Then, in 2021, Congress passed an expansion of the Child Tax Credit.

Suddenly I had a reliable, monthly infusion of cash that meant we could eat consistently. It meant we didn’t face repeated eviction notices. It meant I could put gas in the car, buy my son dress pants for choir, and apply to graduate schools. It meant something I could finally count on.

It meant everything. I got into Stanford’s Ph.D. program in neuroscience, where I got childcare subsidies on campus, a full-tuition scholarship, and campus jobs.

Those payments sent us on our way. But they stopped suddenly a year ago, when all 50 Senate Republicans plus Democrat Joe Manchin refused to extend this program that had cut child poverty in half in just six months.

So, my son’s bike is broken and I can’t get it fixed. The food pantry is again our lifeline — and we’re not alone in that. The loss of the expanded Child Tax Credit is associated with a 25 percent rise in food insecurity nationally.

I again live in fear of any emergency. I’m stressed out and my child feels so much guilt that he won’t ask for basic things he needs.

This is a policy choice, affecting tens of millions of struggling American families who’ve done all they can to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But Congress has a chance to right this grievous wrong by restoring the critical enhancements to the Child Tax Credit.

If lawmakers want to cut taxes for corporations and the rich, then they’d better do the right thing and give ordinary working families a boost, too. A little help makes all the difference in the world.

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Sarah Izabel

Sarah Izabel is a Neurosciences Doctoral Student at the Stanford School of Medicine. As an anti-poverty advocate, she’s the Silicon Valley Group Leader at RESULTS and the RESULTS Educational Fund. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.

Sarah’s full-res headshot is available here.

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