The 24-year-old Child Tax Credit was designed to aid families with the costs of raising children. But as the economic turbulence from the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect millions of households,
Democrats want to shake up that long-standing tax benefit — by making it more generous and changing the way families receive it.
The proposed overhaul would expand the Child Tax Credit to up to $3,600 for children up to 6 years old, or $3,000 for children up to age 17, compared with its current limit of $2,000 for many families. And instead of claiming the credit when you file your tax returns, as is currently the case, the government would provide monthly payouts for the Child Tax Credit.
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Both changes would be historic, lifting an additional 4.1 million children out of poverty and providing a measure of financial stability to families through the proposed monthly payments, says Chuck Marr, the senior director of federal tax policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Under its current format, the Child Tax Credit is responsible for helping lift about 5.5 million children out of poverty each year, he adds.
“Right now, the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit combined are the most powerful anti-poverty programs we have for children,” Marr says. Expanding the former program “has real meaning to low- and middle-income families.”
Millions of those families are now struggling financially because of the pandemic, with a December analysis from the Urban Institute finding that 4 in 10 parents with a child under 6 years old suffered job or income loss in the first six months of the pandemic. In mid-January, about 13% of families with children said they sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat, the U.S. Census found in a recent survey.
The aid has must still secure passage, of course, as congressional committees begin work this week on writing the text of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief plan..
Biden’s proposal would expand the Child Tax Credit for one year, but some Democrats are pushing for legislation to make the tax credit permanent, Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., told reporters in a Monday press conference.
How the Child Tax Credit would work
There’s another key difference from the past: The Democrats’ latest proposal would pay out the tax benefit on a monthly basis. Currently, households typically see the Child Tax Credit through their annual tax refund — a once-a-year-boon that can help them pay down debt or make a big purchase. But providing monthly payments would provide regular income and help families plan for recurring expenses such as daycare or food, experts say.
“Under the Democrat’s proposal, the IRS would send out payments in a similar way to what they did with the stimulus payments, either directly depositing them into recipients’ bank accounts or sending checks or debit cards,” says Alexandra Cawthorne Gaines, vice president of the Center for American Progress’ Poverty to Prosperity program. “Those payments would be monthly and based on families’ income in the prior year.”
How do you qualify for the Child Tax Credit?
The credit would start to phase out for married couples earning $150,000, or $75,000 for single people. “The benefit is essentially targeted to low- and middle-income households,” Cawthorne Gaines says.
In other words, a married couple with two children under 6 and an annual income below $150,000 would receive $7,200 through the tax credit — or payments of $600 a month via direct deposit, check or pre-paid debit cards.
The Child Tax Credit would have a secondary benefit of helping parents who have lost jobs or stepped out of the workforce, including the millions of women who have left their jobs during the crisis, sometimes due to a lack of childcare or the demands of at-home online schooling, experts say.
“This effort to expand child tax credit will have a profound impact on child poverty in this country and dramatically improve the lives and life outcomes of millions of children and their families,” Cawthorne Gaines adds.