OPINION: Child care tax credits help working families

The pandemic devastated the job market but took an especially hard toll on working parents who did double duty homeschooling children while working. Then, as offices reopened, many parents already financially strapped because of the sharp economic downturn and unable to afford child care had to either cut back hours or leave the workforce altogether. This isn’t a new issue. Before the pandemic, access to affordable, quality child care was hard to come by in Alaska, and this was only exacerbated by the public health crisis that has left our state a child care desert still today.

We understand the difficulties of caring for children while also choosing a career. The younger generations shouldn’t have to suffer because of this decision, though. There are good strategies to make working parents’ -- and their kids’ -- lives better. Policymakers in Washington need to implement common sense child tax credit policy that helps parents return to work without sacrificing their children’s upbringing.

Any parent knows that raising a family comes with many important decisions, whether it be where to send your child to school, what after-school activities they will participate in, or where you’ll take them to day care. These decisions are also costly when added to the other everyday household expenses like food, housing and utilities which all cost more in Alaska than most places. Lack of affordable child care only makes it more difficult for families that need the financial stability of two incomes.

In Alaska, the average annual cost of child care for a toddler is $11,300. That means that a two-parent household in Alaska, on average, needs to spend 14% of their income on care for each child every year. These expenses are wearing on Alaska parents. In fact, 20% of mothers, often the primary caregiver, quit their jobs to stay home with their children. Parents increasingly dropping out of the workforce due to child care issues has resulted in an estimated $165 million loss annually for our state. Often, the parent leaving the workforce is the mother because women are often paid less for their work than men. This means this issue disproportionately impacts women’s careers.

Reversing these economic losses will take work. Providing hardworking parents a tax credit would relieve some of the financial pressures on working families and help more Alaskans return to the workforce. A recently revamped Child Tax Credit (CTC) would provide families with this financial security, offering $3,600 per child under 6 and $3,000 per child ages 6 through 17 per year. While there’s room for compromise on the CTC, this proposal is a promising start and would offer a lifeline for parents, giving them the monetary freedom to run their households. There’s already growing support for this credit, particularly among Americans who feel the sting of high inflation. A recent poll of conservative Alaskan voters found that nearly 50% view this monthly refund as beneficial to offsetting rising prices for groceries, child care and education costs. Over 60% of the same voters also support increasing the credit to reflect the higher costs of raising children.

Ultimately, ensuring working Americans have the means to provide for their children will grow today’s and tomorrow’s workforce. The enhanced CTC is how we can better help parents meet the challenges that come with one of the most important roles we can have: raising our children. As two state representatives who have worked together across the political aisle in the past, we know our national leaders can compromise on a proposal to enhance the CTC in a bipartisan way to help families across the country when they need it most.

Reps. Ivy Spohnholz (D) and Sara Rasmussen (R) serve in the Alaska House of Representatives.

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