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If Congress had renewed the expanded child tax credit late last year, Jen Cousins would have received $1,000 from the government on January 14.
She reportedly used the money to repair the brakes of her family’s only vehicle, a van. She reportedly took her four children to the eye doctor as they all need new glasses. Some of the money was reportedly saved to repair the roof of their home in Orlando, Florida.
But in December, Congress left Washington for the winter recess without passing President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, which included an extension of the Expanded Child Tax Credit, or CTC.
The program, which began in July 2021, included an increase in payments sent monthly and expanded the number of eligible families. More than 36 million families in the United States received payments ranging from $250 to $300 per child.
Now, families are scrambling to adjust to the lack of that consistent financial support as the pandemic continues and inflation soars. Many have to drastically redesign their lives, sometimes just to meet their basic needs.
“My husband has the only paycheck in the family. We rely heavily on CTC,” Cousins told NPR.
Around the same time the extended monthly payments were announced, Cousins says, their minivan’s transmission went dead. Without the credit, it would have taken the family four to six months to save enough money to have the car repaired. But thanks to the extra money, they were able to get it fixed in two months.
Unfortunately, the car problems didn’t end there.
“Of course, now that the tax credit is gone, the brakes need to be tightened,” Cousins said. “So that’s still $1,500 that I have to budget for. If I got the payment, I could get my van fixed in two or three weeks. Now I try to limit the distance I drive.”
Since her family didn’t get a check this month, everything from prescription drugs — like $100-a-month eye drops not covered by insurance for her daughter with nearsightedness — dental procedures have been “stricter” when it comes to money, Cousins says.
“Everything is expensive. Inflation is so high,” she says. “With six people in a family, there’s always something going on. Someone gets sick, someone has to go to the doctor.”
“We are on the same salary level but the cost of everything keeps going up.”
With the end of monthly CTC payments, Cousins is spacing out her children’s eye appointments because she can’t afford to take them all at once. Her husband has to postpone a dental procedure that would cost them $850. And fun things, like taking the kids to see a movie, just aren’t an option right now.
One in four parents used the child care expense credit
“What’s most frustrating about all of this is that taking away the child tax credit is actually hurting the families who need it most,” said Jessica Fulton, vice president of the Joint Center for Political. and Economic Studies, at NPR.
The expansion of the child tax credit has been particularly beneficial for low-income families. The way the child tax credit policy was originally designed, Fulton explains, half of all black and Latino families and families in rural communities weren’t able to get the full credit because they weren’t making enough money. The now expired expanded policy helped close that gap.
She also notes that one in four families with young children used their monthly CTC payment to cover childcare costs. Now that the payments are gone, Fulton says it’s unclear what unemployment numbers will look like next month, as some people may have to stay home with their children.
“At a time when we want parents back to work, they needed this income boost,” she says.
Rachel Rivera is one of the parents who had to make this choice. Without the monthly payments, she had to work more in mom-and-pop shops and retail businesses in New York, but she still struggles financially.
“It’s been hell trying to pay for everything on time, balancing staying home or going to work because I have a high-risk child and COVID is still here,” Rivera said.
The single mother says she struggles to pay rent in Brooklyn and not be evicted, put food on the table and get essentials for her family, including a daughter who has respiratory problems .
“It’s been really hard for us,” she says, adding that she’s trying to be a “super mom.”
But “when everybody’s sleeping,” she said, “I’m here crying, like how am I going to put food on the table, how am I going to pay the rent, it’s just a rollercoaster emotional.”
Rivera found out through Facebook posts that the extended tax credit was ending and she would not receive a payment in January.
“It was one of those moments where I just had to stop everything and scream at the top of my lungs: no.”
For now, Rivera continues to work, without paying all of her rent to be able to feed herself. At the same time, she tries to make sure her daughter stays healthy. She asked for help but says financial help is hard to come by “because everyone is struggling”.
“It’s really hard to understand when everyone else is trying to figure it out too,” she says.
Biden says his social spending plan could pass in pieces, but he still faces opposition
At a press conference on Wednesday, President Biden suggested that Democrats should split their social spending agenda into separate pieces of legislation in order to push it through.
“I’m not going to negotiate against myself on what should and shouldn’t be in it, but I think we can split the pack, get as much as we can now, and come back and fight for the rest later, Biden told reporters at the White House.
But even if the legislation is broken, the president still faces opposition from Republicans and Democrats like Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has expressed concern about the cost of the legislation and how it will work. would contribute to higher inflation.
Privately, Manchin also reportedly expressed concern that parents who received the monthly credit would use the money to buy drugs, according to the Huffington Post.
Meanwhile, since the program ended, the consequences have already become dire for some children across the country.
Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy estimates that the sixth payment of the Child Tax Credit, which was paid out in December, has kept 3.7 million children out of poverty. poverty. Without the payment this month, the child poverty rate could rise from 12.1% to at least 17.1%, which would be the highest rate since December 2020.
Along with the monthly payments, a federal survey also showed a drop in the number of families who reported not having enough to eat. This number is expected to climb in the coming weeks.