“Are we going to take care of our kids and help them be healthy and successful and ready to become adults?,” state Rep. Greg Smith asked his colleagues a few months back. It’s time for the Oregon Legislature to answer that question now that the walkout by Republican senators has come to an end.
Smith, a Republican whose district spans part of nine counties in northeast and central Oregon, posed the question while testifying in favor of House Bill 3235, which would establish a state child tax credit designed to help low-income families with young children make ends meet. The proposal, known as the Oregon Kids’ Credit, is an excellent opportunity to put in place a policy with lasting benefits for our state.
By now, it’s clear that a child tax credit is a policy that works. Any shred of doubt vanished with the success of the expanded federal Child Tax Credit that took effect in 2021. That policy was the main reason why the nation’s child poverty rate plunged by nearly half compared to the prior year, falling to its lowest level ever recorded. Regrettably, Congress failed to make those changes permanent, leaving it up to states to step in and shore up families trying to survive on low wages.
A number of Oregon lawmakers rose to the occasion, introducing House Bill 3235, the Oregon Kids’ Credit. The bill provides a fully refundable tax credit worth $1,000 to qualifying low-income families for every child younger than 6. Families earning up to $25,000 per year are eligible for the full credit, before eligibility phases out by $30,000.
What would such a policy do for Oregon families? In the short term, it would improve the economic security of the lowest-paid families with young children. If the expanded federal Child Tax Credit is any guide, we can expect that these families will use the extra cash to cover the cost of essentials like food, rent and utilities. Families will suffer less stress over their finances.
In the long-term, the impact will multiply. Studies have found that delivering additional money to families with low incomes can have a wide range of positive impacts such as improved health outcomes for children and parents, and increased earnings of child beneficiaries when they reach adulthood. A 2022 National Bureau of Economic Research study estimated that making the expanded federal Child Tax Credit permanent would result in a return on investment of more than 10 times.
As Smith put it, “It’s an investment. It’s going to cost a few bucks on the front end, but the dividends will pay later.”
The Oregon Kids’ Credit would yield additional benefits to our state, not least helping reduce disparities by race and ethnicity. While children of all races and ethnicities stand to gain from the Oregon Kids’ Credit, it would disproportionately benefit Black, Indigenous, and Latino children. Oregon’s legacy of exclusionary policies and racist structures means that families of color are more likely to struggle to make ends meet. In part, the Oregon Kids’ Credit would help close that gap.
Children in rural Oregon would also come out ahead. Compared to families in urban centers, families in rural Oregon are more likely to get by on low wages. The Oregon Kids’ Credit would help ease this economic divide.
With so much upside, it’s not surprising to see that the Oregon Kids’ Credit legislation garnered bipartisan support along the legislative process. While it’s likely feelings remain raw following the longest walkout by members of the minority party, enacting the Oregon Kids’ Credit would show that lawmakers can still come together for the greater good of our state.