Expanded child tax credit could transform lives — but we have to make it permanent

August 3, 2021 3:33 am

The new child tax credit is a current, actual piece of transformational policy, writes John Wilson, president of Kansas Action for Children. The benefit shows America can still not only be good and caring to its people, but it can aim for true greatness. (Submitted)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. John Wilson is president of Kansas Action for Children.

We’re standing on the edge of a transformational moment, not just in Kansas, but in all of the United States. With a single vote from the U.S. Congress, we could more than halve childhood poverty in this state and set up tens of thousands of children for lifetimes of success.

Sound implausible or overly optimistic? It’s actually a program that just began on a temporary basis: the expansion of the child tax credit. But to reap the full benefits, that expansion must be made permanent.

Let’s step back for a moment to explain what the expanded credit is, and what it does. Essentially, it increases the credit that households with children receive on their taxes. But rather than simply boosting your refund at tax time, the American Rescue Plan Act made a chunk of the credit payable in monthly installments for the rest of 2021. That’s important for families who might be struggling year-round. The credit works out to a maximum of $300 per month for children under 6 and $250 per month for those between 6 and 17. (There are income limitations, and you can learn more about the program at https://www.whitehouse.gov/child-tax-credit/).

You might have noticed the first deposit hit your bank account on July 15. Some may have received a paper check through the mail. Five more payments will be coming, but the expanded credit is only funded until the end of the year. Legislators in the House and the Senate will have to choose to extend the program.

Four numbers explain why that’s critical.

First, according to the Annie E. Casey’s annual KIDS COUNT report, some 101,000 Kansas kids lived in households with an income below the poverty line in 2019. That’s more than the population of Lawrence. (And for reference, a poverty line income is less than $22,000 a year for a family of three.) A little extra help goes a long way for many of these folks.

Second, also according to the KIDS COUNT report, 37,000 Kansas kids live in high-poverty areas, or census tracts with poverty rates of 30 percent or more. As the Casey Foundation notes, these neighborhoods are “much more likely than others to have high rates of crime and violence, physical and mental health issues, unemployment and other problems.” For families living in such areas, extra cash could literally change their housing and their lives.

Third, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Kansas children would see incredible benefits from a permanent, expanded credit. A full 58,000 kids, or more than half of Kansas kids in poverty, would be brought above the poverty line or closer to it, with 29,000 Kansas children estimated to be lifted above the poverty line by permanent expansion.

Finally, CBPP makes it clear the benefits are far broader than just helping those below the poverty line. Some 651,000 Kansas children overall would benefit from a permanent credit. That’s 92% of all kids in the state.

I want you to go back, right now, and review those four numbers. The more than 100,000 kids in poverty who live around us. The 37,000 struggling in challenging communities. The more than half who would be brought near or above the poverty line. And the 92% of Kansas children overall who would receive the benefit.

This isn’t some dusty New Deal program from our country’s past.

This is a current, actual piece of transformational policy. The expanded child tax credit shows America can still not only be good and caring to its people, but it can aim for true greatness.

Our legislators in Washington, D.C., often cast controversial votes. They have to make choices about military spending, about war and peace, about protecting the environment and endangered species. They often face dissatisfied constituents from across the ideological spectrum.

Supporting our children shouldn’t be controversial. Investing in the littlest Kansans should be easy. It should make our legislators — and all of us — proud.

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John Wilson
John Wilson

John Wilson joined Kansas Action for Children in September 2017 as vice president. He became president and CEO of KAC in 2019, after leading the group’s work in early education, health policy and family supports. Before his time at KAC, Wilson worked at the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. As a Kansas State Representative, he worked to redefine the culture of the Legislature to make it more open and collaborative. The best parts of his day are when he’s spending time with his wife, Jami, and their two sons, Parker and Henry.