I like to think I’m an American success story.
I was born into homelessness, grew up in the foster care system, and suffered unthinkable domestic abuse as an adult. Now I’m on track to graduate with a Master’s degree in social work next spring.
But don’t mistake my story for the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” trope that conservative lawmakers like to call the American Dream. That idea is mythical, and my own success story proves it.
I’m one hero of my story, certainly. My children, friends, and community members are, too.
But so are the well-funded foster care services I received growing up in Michigan. And the publicly funded therapy and recovery services that helped me overcome the trauma of my early years spent on the street.
Also essential? The Section 8 federal housing program and public programs in Lexington, Kentucky, where my kids and I now live. Those services kept a roof over my children’s heads, put food on the table, and provided child care assistance so I could work and enroll in college as a single parent.
Finally, the big hero that helped me and my children survive the pandemic and thrive through loss of employment, child care, and in-person school was the enhanced monthly Child Tax Credit, passed as a cornerstone of the pandemic relief American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
That credit put monthly payments directly into the bank accounts of nearly every parent and guardian in this country.
Like over 90 percent of all parents who received this benefit, I spent the money on necessities for my family — the first check alone nearly paid off my back rent. I experienced a notable reduction in stress and anxiety, which helped me focus on being a good student and mom.
The Child Tax Credit brought 30 percent of children out of poverty in its very first month. Over its year-long duration, it eventually lifted nearly half of all poor children out of poverty, bringing child poverty to a stunning historic low.
Research connects getting out of poverty to much better health and cognitive development in children, with life-long impacts on educational success, income, and well-being. But despite the overwhelmingly positive effect on nearly all families with children — no matter where we live, our household income, or what we look like — conservative federal lawmakers refused to continue this critical lifeline.
They falsely claimed that helping children out of poverty incentivized their parents not to work. Recent Census data destroys this argument. It shows a large increase in working-age adults’ employment for the duration of the 2021 enhanced Child Tax Credit benefits. The rise in employment was virtually the same for adults with and without dependent children.
Similarly, claims that the expanded Child Tax Credit spiked inflation lack evidence. On the contrary, the very necessities that families used the credit to pay for — including heat, housing, and food — are those that have increased in price. Continuing the expanded credit would have eased the effects of inflation on families.
Instead, the expanded Child Tax Credit payments expired at the end of 2021. And child poverty immediately began to shoot back up.
We all want our children to be safe, happy, and healthy. We want to provide the foundation from which they can pursue their dreams. That’s the real American Dream, right? But life presents us all with obstacles, from the unpredictable winds of fate to lawmakers who all too predictably vote to destroy the programs that helped families like mine succeed.
Yet if we come together, raise our voices, and exercise our democratic power at the ballot box, we can elect representatives that will vote in favor of supporting our children’s dreams, not against them.
Revive the expanded monthly Child Tax Credit and make it permanent. Our children deserve nothing less.