By Marian Wright Edelman
April 18 was Tax Day in the United States, and this year, the day was an especially sad reminder that the refundable, monthly expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) that ended in December 2021 was short lived. The expanded CTC was a lifeline that benefited 90 percent of our nation’s children and lifted 3 million children above the federal poverty line in a single month by providing families much-needed cash to afford the basics.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted 90 percent of families with incomes below $35,000 spent it on food, utilities, housing, clothing, or education. It was proof in real time that we know how to end child poverty and we can do it when we find the political will. But now we have also seen what happens when that will is not sustained: when Congress let the expanded CTC expire after six months without extending it, within just one month child poverty spiked by more than 40 percent and nearly 3.7 million children, including 662,000 Black children and 1.3 million Latino children, fell below the federal poverty line.
We will not stop fighting. The Children’s Defense Fund is a co-chair of the Automatic Benefit for Children (ABC) Coalition, organizations working to create a permanent child allowance, or a guaranteed income, for children in the U.S. Many of the families who desperately needed the cushion the CTC provided were left right back in the same stressful position just as prices for basics like food and gas were rising sharply, and the ABC Coalition recently sent a letter to Congress demanding they prioritize tax breaks for families and children rather than corporations that reads in part:
“According to a recent report from Moody’s Analytics, inflation is costing the average U.S. family an additional $296 per month, an amount roughly equivalent to one monthly payment of the expanded CTC for a single child. This pandemic-fueled inflation is compounding a longer-term trend: the cost of raising children has been rising faster than inflation for decades . . . Last year, the expanded CTC helped families deal with pandemic-related spikes in the costs of goods like gas and food and longer-term increases in expenses like child care. In 2021, a couple with two young children paid on average about $1,000 more for food and gas than before the pandemic . . .
“ Many of the families who used monthly CTC payments to cover their basic needs do not have the savings to cover the increased costs of living. We are concerned that even as families struggle, efforts to extend the CTC appear to have stalled in the Senate, while discussions about reviving and bolstering tax breaks for corporations have continued in earnest. When inflation hits, corporations can weather the storm and even turn record profits by raising prices beyond the rate of inflation, but families don’t have that luxury.”
Children and families deserve a permanent solution. That’s also why the Children’s Defense Fund is calling on Congress to enact measures like the Babies over Billionaires Act introduced into Congress on April 14 by Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) and co-leads Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-IL), Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), and Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA) to hold billionaires who have been protected by tax loopholes for far too long accountable.
This Act would tax the unrealized capital gains of the top 0.01 percent of American taxpayers with over $100 million in assets—about 700 billionaires—and invest that money in programs that support families and children in the Departments of Health and Human Services and Education.
As Rep. Bowman said at the bill’s introduction: “Policy reflects our priorities, and for decades, the United States has chosen to invest in the personal wealth of billionaires while failing to invest in the tangible needs of our children and our communities. Working class people are taxed more than billionaires at times and often have their income more harshly scrutinized, all while struggling to keep up with the rising costs of basic needs like food and housing . . . By auditing and taxing the 700 richest people in our country the wealthy will finally pay their fair share.”
Right now Tax Day is still a reminder of our nation’s misguided priorities, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. We must envision and realize an America where every child has enough. God did not make two classes of children and we do so at our peril.
Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire professional life.