Opinions

Navigating the need for the Child Tax Credit and family security

When Maria’s old Honda broke down, it didn’t just impede her freedom to get places. It ended her source of income as a DoorDash driver, a job that helped pay for groceries, school supplies and medical bills.

Fortunately, the Child Tax Credit (CTC), which was expanded by Congress in the American Rescue Plan, threw Maria the lifeline she needed. She used the monthly payments to repair the transmission and get back on the road to provide for her family. Now she’s telling friends and neighbors about the CTC, so nobody misses out on this unprecedented relief for families.

When the first monthly CTC payment first went out in July, it immediately and substantially reduced hardship for families. A Columbia University analysis found families with low incomes who received that payment experienced a 43% decline in food insufficiency. In fact, according to a Household Pulse Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, most families spent their first payment on buying food, 47%, or covering the cost of child care, nearly 10%.

Researchers believe the CTC has the potential to reduce child poverty by half. This would become the largest-ever one-year decrease in child poverty in the history of the United States. That is why for the CTC to have such a meaningful impact on child poverty, all families who are eligible must enroll in the credit. The time is now and the clock is ticking.

Mark your calendars for Nov. 15; this is the last day families can enroll to receive payments from the CTC for this year.

What can we do before this crucial deadline to make history happen? Find families who have not yet filed their taxes, or accessed the credit, and help them apply.

The U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Tax Analysis published data on children who were on health insurance forms but not on tax returns. The data showed that as many as 2.3 million children might miss out on benefits because their families did not file income taxes in 2019 or 2020. In Alaska, for example, there are 7,726 children at risk.

There are three things we can all do to make sure eligible families receive the credit and realize the full economic benefits: Talk to your friends and neighbors to make sure they know how to access the Child Tax Credit. If you’ve received a tax credit, share with others how the extra cash helped your family. Ask churches, nonprofits and community organizations to help make eligible families aware of the credit and provide hands-on support for navigating the process. Many people who need to file will likely face hurdles — from language barriers to technical proficiency. Finally, while President Biden’s American Families Plan calls for extending this tax relief for years to come, it is not a guarantee. Let’s make sure we spread the word to families and communities to sign up now and demonstrate how much this credit is needed.

Since this is the first time some have been eligible, it’s not surprising a few misunderstandings may be preventing families from enrolling. To be clear, receiving the CTC does not harm any social service benefits that an individual or family may receive, and anyone can enroll regardless of citizenship as long as the child receiving the credit has a SSN or ITIN.

We know these efforts can lead to historic reductions in child poverty among communities of color. The benefits of this work could be felt for decades. The road to equity is long, but it’s time we get to work to make it happen.

Nikki Hatch is the acting regional administrator for Region 10 of the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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