When the child tax credit, first established in 1997, was expanded for a year in 2021, it was a major political and social win for the country. At a time when the pandemic had worsened many families’ financial distress, the Biden administration’s decision not only added to the amount of the tax credit and converted the payment from a year-end lump sum to monthly payments; it also abandoned the work requirement for parents. This immediately affected one third of all children in the U.S., including 52 percent of Black children and 41 percent of Hispanic children, whose families were formerly excluded because the parents earned too little to qualify for the tax credit. The tax credit expansion lifted 3.7 million children out of poverty by December 2021 without significantly reducing parents’ work participation.
Then in January 2022, the expanded tax credit expired, which plunged 3.7 million back into poverty, with higher percentage increases in poverty among Hispanic and Black children. The credit showed us that cash assistance could help families stay afloat and, contrary to some political beliefs, parents would not leave the labor system because of it. Even so, the failure to renew the expansion should not negate this important political milestone: Congress came within one vote of abandoning parental work requirements as a condition to get cash assistance for their families.
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