Politics

Congress failed to extend child tax credit expansion, but Murkowski says she’s open to negotiations

JUNEAU — An expanded federal tax credit program that has paid tens of thousands of Alaska families up to $300 per child per month since July will expire Friday after Congress failed to pass the Build Back Better Act.

All three members of Alaska’s congressional delegation opposed the Build Back Better legislation, which was backed by Democrats, but Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she is open to considering the expanded child tax credit if it advances as a standalone bill.

Looking ahead to 2022, Murkowski said in a year-end interview that she expects Democrats to revive pieces of Build Back Better as targeted initiatives. The bill narrowly passed the House but died in the Senate after U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, said he would oppose it and no Republicans stood in support.

As a whole, Murkowski said, she didn’t support the bill. “I think Joe Manchin gave the country a gift ... when he said that he was not going to be supporting the Democrats’ initiative,” she said.

But regarding the expanded child tax credit specifically, Murkowski said she may be open to negotiations.

“If somebody wants to ask me to sit down with them and talk about — is there a way that we could work on a expanded child tax credit that we’re going to be able to pay for and is going to be helping families, I would say, absolutely. Let me sit down and talk and see what we can do,” Murkowski said.

A spokesman for Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, indicated the congressman, a former teacher, may be interested as well.

“As both President Biden’s partisan COVID relief bill and his rushed social infrastructure bill were drafted, the Congressman was clear that some of the policies within them merited consideration. However, he continues to believe that stuffing dozens of partisan policy priorities into one pass-now-read-later bill is poor governance and even worse public policy,” said Zack Brown, Young’s communications director.

A spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, was more equivocal.

“Senator Sullivan supported helping hardworking families through the child tax credit, which was doubled by Republicans in Congress and President Trump in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017,” the spokesperson said. “However, the Biden reckless tax and spending plan, also known as Build Back Better, has so many gimmicks — which in reality would lead to trillions of dollars in new social spending — that it’s hard to evaluate an individual child tax credit proposal in the context of this comprehensive, complicated, and seriously flawed legislation.”

Passed as part of the American Rescue Plan in March, the expanded child tax credit program increased the federal government’s existing per-child credit from $2,000 per child to $3,000 per child for children over age 6 and from $2,000 to $3,600 for children under that age, and raised the age limit to receive any credit from 16 to 17. Parents were eligible for the full credit if they earned less than $150,000 as a couple or $112,500 as a single parent.

In Alaska, about 84,000 families were eligible for the expanded child tax credit, according to a fact sheet from the White House. An estimated 35 million families in the U.S. received the monthly payments, the last of which went out Dec. 15.

Tax credits normally only matter during tax time, but parents were able to receive the credit in monthly payments instead. Eligibility was based on the 2019 and 2020 tax returns they filed, and any parent who didn’t collect the payments can still claim the credit when they fill out their taxes in the new year.

Without passage by Congress, the advance payments end and the child tax credit program reverts to a smaller amount.

Trevor Storrs, president and CEO of the Alaska Children’s Trust, said that without formal studies, it’s really hard to gauge the impact the credit has had in Alaska, but he believes there’s no question that it’s done some good.

“What we do know is with the child tax credit, is it has helped many of our families who live in the high end of poverty or on the cusp of poverty, to get out of that situation or prevent them from slipping into poverty,” he said.

More money in a household means less stress on families trying to pay bills, and “we know through the work of the Children’s Trust that when there is greater stress within the family ... it puts children at greater risk of experiencing some level of child abuse and neglect.”

The COVID-19 pandemic intensified demand for the assistance provided by Catholic Social Services, said communications and development officer Tricia Teasley, and the organization hasn’t seen that demand slacken over the past year, she said.

The St. Francis House Food Pantry, Alaska’s largest, switched from monthly to weekly help for families after the pandemic began, and it’s still providing help to 910 families per month, she said.

At the Alaska Division of Public Assistance, a state official said its child care program has not seen any significant changes in demand.

Murkowski plans work on VAWA, fisheries research funding, advancing Willow project

Looking back on 2021, Murkowski said, “It was not a good year. We started off with Jan. 6, then we went into an impeachment. We’re still dealing with COVID. We had just a debacle with Afghanistan. We’re looking at unprecedented inflation in this country. It just really hasn’t been that great of a year.”

She also described some of the past year’s accomplishments, including the new national infrastructure bill and legislation that allowed international cruise ships to sail to Southeast Alaska and bypass Canada in 2021.

In the first quarter of 2022, Murkowski said she will be introducing a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, will work on increasing funding for fisheries research and will do what she can to advance development of the Willow oil project on the North Slope.

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.

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