Expanded Child Tax Credit in stimulus could be ‘one of the most impactful efforts to reduce child poverty in decades’

By Elizabeth Thompson

The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS — Low-income families throughout the nation are close to getting a big boost, with Congress poised to expand the Child Tax Credit as part of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package.

The bill, which passed the Senate on Saturday, would broaden eligibility and increase payments of up to $3,600 for children under 6 and $3,000 for children ages 7 to 17.

That’s on top of the $1,400 stimulus checks included in the American Rescue Plan, which also extends a $300 per week boost to jobless benefits through Sept. 6, among many other provisions.

Nationwide, the child credit could lift over 4.1 million children out of poverty, according to a report from the Austin-based Center on Budget and Public Priorities.

The bill “will single-handedly be one of the most impactful efforts to reduce child poverty in decades,” said Patrick Bresette, executive director of the Texas branch of the Children’s Defense Fund.

The House is expected to sign off with a final vote on Wednesday, sending it to President Joe Biden, who is eager to sign it.

The Child Tax Credit currently gives up to $2,000 per child under 17. Household income must be at least $2,500 to qualify. That leaves out families that need the money the most, Bresette said.

The pending bill closes that gap, extending eligibility to families that owe no federal income tax. And it adds an extra year of payments, with a new cutoff when a child turns 18.

Monthly payments would start in July.

Like the stimulus payments, the per-child credit phases out at $75,000 for single filers, $150,000 for couples filing jointly, and $112,500 for a single head of household.

Getting rid of the work requirement is a “big shift,” said Erica York, economist at the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation, and it has garnered criticism from conservatives for expanding the welfare state.

“Historically, it’s always been tied to work, and now it’s severing that tie and making it nearly universal,” York said. “It still has phase-outs for higher income households, but doing away with that work requirement as it is a pretty big shift in policy that’s going to have a big impact.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the $1.9 trillion plan “one of the largest anti-poverty bills in recent history.”

The bill has not received any Republican votes in either chamber. Some Republicans are accusing Democrats of refusing to seek a deal, and they are complaining about the high price tag.

“Our Democrat colleagues drafted this partisan bill by choice, not necessity,” Cornyn said in a statement Saturday. “Their desire to turn a liberal wish list into law far outranked their interest in bipartisanship or unity.”

Democrats laud the more generous Child Tax Credit.

“This pandemic has been especially hard on families with young children and they need help,” Democratic Rep. Colin Allred said in a statement. “I support these changes to the Child Tax Credit and believe they will make a real difference for families and kids — including lifting more than 4 million American kids out of poverty.”

“Last week, @HouseDemocrats passed the #AmericanRescuePlan to put money in people’s pockets during this health and economic crisis and lift nearly 10 million children out of poverty,” Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar said in a tweet. “Help is on the way for El Paso’s struggling families.”

The relief bill makes the changes for one year. But this could be “just the first step,” York said — and in fact, many Democrats have pushed for the change to become permanent, among them Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Michael Bennet of Colorado.

“Typically what happens when we see a temporary change in the tax code, a policy gets its foot in the door and then it doesn’t go away,” York said. “Some form of it gets extended or some form of it becomes permanent.”