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WASHINGTON (AP) — The child tax credit had always been an empty gesture to millions of parents like Tamika Daniel.
That changed Thursday when the first payment of $1,000 hit Daniel’s bank account — and dollars started flowing to the pockets of more than 35 million families around the country. Daniel, a 35-year-old mother of four, didn’t even know the tax credit existed until President Joe Biden expanded it for one year as part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that passed in March.
Previously, only people who earned enough money to owe income taxes could qualify for the credit. Daniel went nearly a decade without a job because her oldest son is autistic and needed her. So she got by on Social Security payments. And she had to live at Fairfield Courts, a public housing project that dead-ends at Interstate 64 as the highway cuts through the Virginia capital of Richmond.
But the extra $1,000 a month for the next year could be a life-changer for Daniel, who now works as a community organizer for a Richmond nonprofit. It will help provide a security deposit on a new apartment.
Democrats see this as a landmark program along the same lines as Social Security, saying it will lead to better outcomes in adulthood that will help economic growth. But many Republicans warn that the payments will discourage parents from working and ultimately feed into long- term poverty.
Some 15 million households will now receive the full credit. The monthly payments amount to $300 for each child who is 5 and younger and $250 for those between 5 and 17. The payments are set to lapse after a year, but Biden is pushing to extend them through at least 2025.
The president ultimately would like to make the payments permanent — and that makes this first round of payments a test as to whether the government can improve the lives of families.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who successfully championed increasing the credit in 2017, said that the Democrats’ plans will turn the benefits into an “anti-work welfare check” because almost every family can now qualify for the payment regardless of whether the parents have a job.
An administration official disputed those claims. Treasury Department esti- mates indicate that 97% of recipients of the tax credit have wages or self-employment income, while the other 3% are grandparents or have health issues. The official, who requested anonymity to discuss internal analyses, noted that the credit starts to phase out at $150,000 for joint filers, so there is no disincentive for the poor to work because a job would just give them more income.
Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet said the problem is one of inequality. He said that economic growth has benefited the top 10% of earners in recent decades, while families are struggling with the rising costs of housing, child care and health care. He said his voters back in Colorado are concerned that their children will be poorer than previous generations and that requires the expansion of the child tax credit.
Parenthood is an expensive undertaking. The Agriculture Department estimated in 2017, the last year it published such a report, that a typical family spends $233,610 to raise a child from birth to the age of 17. But wealthier children get far more invested in their education and upbringing, while poorer children face a constant disadvantage. Families in the top third of incomes spend about $10,000 more annually per child than families in the lower third.