Mothers need a stronger Child Tax Credit

Of course, send flowers and a card. Better yet, pay your mom a visit.

But if you truly want to honor the mothers in your life this Mother’s Day, then commit to fight like hell for a reinstatement of the expanded federal Child Tax Credit.

A little over a year ago, as part of the last pandemic relief package, Congress enacted an incredibly successful piece of legislation: an expanded Child Tax Credit. It’s hard to think of a policy that did so much so quickly to improve the economic security of children.

Congress strengthened the Child Tax Credit in several ways. First, it increased the maximum amount of the credit from $2,000 to $3,000 per child. For families with children under age 6, the amount went up to $3,600. In Oregon and across the nation, nearly all families with children benefited from this change.

Next, Congress reworked the credit so that the lowest-paid families got the full benefit. Prior to this, the families with the fewest resources received little or nothing from the Child Tax Credit because their incomes were too low. But the change enacted last year finally set things right, allowing low-paid families to get the same amount as all other families.

Finally, Congress made the Child Tax Credit more useful for families in meeting their ongoing expenses. Previously, families would get the tax credit once a year in a lump sum, after they filed their tax return. Though it’s great to get a big check, this structure did not help families on a tight budget cover monthly expenses such as rent, food, and utilities. Congress improved this by making it so that families received a portion of the Child Tax Credit in monthly installments, via a check or direct deposit.

The result of these changes was an unqualified success. Together with a stronger Earned Income Tax Credit, the expanded Child Tax Credit cut child poverty in half.

For millions of families all over the country, the expanded Child Tax Credit helped them make ends meet, reducing their financial stress. The data is clear that most of the money went to pay for essentials like food and rent. At the start of the school year, families spent the money on school expenses, and some parents invested in their own education. These patterns were particularly the case among Black, Latino, and other families of color.

The expanded Child Tax Credit did not dissuade parents from working. In fact, there’s some evidence that the opposite is true — that the enhanced credit made it easier for parents to work. That makes sense, if you stop and think about it. You need to have some level of resources to have a job. You need stable housing. You need transportation. You need child care. The expanded Child Tax Credit may have addressed some of the financial barriers that parents face in finding and keeping a job.

Where Congress came up short is in the fact that the improvements to Child Tax Credit were only temporary. The changes expired in January of this year.

And with that expiration, poverty levels have surged once again. Low-income families not only lost the income support provided by the improved Child Tax Credit, they now must contend with rising prices for food, gasoline, and other essentials.

Today, Mother’s Day can seem like Hallmark ad, a highly commercialized affair, but this holiday has its roots in social justice. In the 19th Century, the call to establish Mother’s Day arose from peace activists like Julia Ward Howe, as well as from activists like Ann Jarvis, who wanted to bring attention to the need to improve the health of families, at a time when poor sanitation was causing high rates of infant deaths.

So, if you want to act on the original spirit of Mother’s Day, then help bring attention to the economic hardship of families today. Urge Congress to reinstate the expanded Child Tax Credit.