Because the last two years of pandemic life have been so difficult, many of us are looking forward to a more festive and joyful holiday season than the one we experienced in 2020.
While many of us gather to spend time with friends and family, what should be a time of joy and celebration could end up becoming one of needless hardship for many families, because the federal Child Tax Credit had been allowed to expire.
I’ve seen that hardship firsthand as the executive director of The Action Center, a nonprofit organization in Jefferson County that provides resources to our clients with access to services that help them meet their needs and become self-sufficient. While the economic hardship of 2020 has lessened, far too many Colorado families are struggling to make ends meet and afford food, rent, clothing, and other basic needs.
Thanks to relief legislation Congress passed this year, we’ve made progress on many economic fronts, and those policies have been making it easier for families to make ends meet. Nutrition programs, investments in health care, and the expansion of the federal Child Tax Credit, among other policies in the American Rescue Plan Act, all provided more security for the families we serve in Jefferson County and across Colorado.
Unfortunately, much of that aid was only temporary. In particular, the final checks issued under the Child Tax Credit expansion were mailed yesterday, and the credit is set to end. As important and even transformational as the $300 per-child monthly payments have been for families, there will be drastic and unnecessarily painful consequences for families if it disappears.
We know parents have been using that money as a cushion every month to pay for those basic needs, and without congressional action, that cushion won’t phase out; it will simply disappear.
To state the obvious: when families have more money in their pockets, kids are less likely to be living in poverty. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Child Tax Credit expansion lifted 132,000 Colorado kids out of poverty, and failing to extend it would risk all of those children, a disproportionate number of whom are Black and Latino, from falling back below the poverty line. We should be working to end child poverty, not increasing it by letting this important anti-poverty policy lapse.
It’s not just Colorado’s families who are benefitting from the Child Tax Credit either. The monthly payments are supporting our state’s economic health. A recent analysis from the Colorado Fiscal Institute found hundreds of millions of dollars are flowing into Colorado’s economy from Child Tax Credit expansion payments every single month, billions every year. It means businesses have to pay higher wages or hire more workers.
That money is an economic engine for Colorado communities; as we work to recover from the pandemic-created recession, turning off the flow of that money makes no sense.
Because of Congressional inaction, families will be approaching the holidays with the specter of losing their $300-a-month lifeline. Considering how many families reported they would be unable to afford an unexpected $400 expense if one came up. It’s not far-fetched to think it would drastically and needlessly harm the people who need it most.
Congress can and must stop the economic and social fallout they’ll be creating if they let the Child Tax Credit lapse and fail to pass the Build Back Better budget legislation before the end of the year, which would extend the Child Tax Credit for one year. If they do, it will ensure a brighter 2022 for thousands of Colorado kids and their families.
Pam Brier, of Lakewood, is executive director of The Action Center
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