Congressional Democrats are proposing to temporarily raise the child tax credit, now at a maximum of $2,000, to as much as $3,600 per child annually. Their plan would also make the credit fully available to the poorest families, instead of restricting it based on the parents’ tax liability.
“The Democratic plan would likely mark the most significant step in the fight against child poverty since LBJ’s Great Society,” said Daniel Hemel, a law professor at the University of Chicago, who noted that a family with two school-age children and no income would get $6,000 annually under the proposal.
The one-off benefit is intended to help relieve millions of families hurt by the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Some parents have lost their access to child care, pushing them out of the labor force and hindering the economic recovery. Children have gone without the classroom time needed for social and academic progress.
Biden pitched his rescue plan as an immediate response to the pandemic, but the child tax credit expansion might end up seeding the kind of lasting change that tends to bring a political fight. Some conservatives say the plan would discourage parents from working and would not reduce poverty as a result.
“They’re clearly using this COVID situation to try and permanently change the welfare state and permanently enlarge it,” said Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
As outlined by the House Ways and Means Committee, the expanded child tax credit would likely help about 20 million lower-income people. Families would receive up to $3,600 annually for each child under age 6 and as much as $3,000 for those up to 17. The credit would start to phase out for individual parents earning more than $75,000 and couples making $150,000. Payments of the credit would be made monthly, even to families who owe no federal income taxes — a change from current policy.
The plan has shifted some of the politics around child poverty. Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah last week proposed his own plan to provide at least $3,000 per child to families, but the payments would be funded by cutting other government programs and tax credits for parents. It’s unlikely that Democrats would back Romney’s plan because it would cut other forms of aid to children, meaning it has not gained much political traction so far.
Researchers at Columbia University estimated that Biden’s entire $1.9 trillion relief plan would slash the child poverty rate to less than 7% this year.