Bring Back the 2021 Expansion of the Child Tax Credit: An Effective Mechanism for Reducing Poverty 


July 28, 2023

During the height of the pandemic in 2021, I worked as a summer intern in a Georgia senator’s office. As with any other intern, my main responsibility was answering calls from constituents regarding matters ranging from Social Security benefits to passports. Though not a day went by when I did not receive a call from a constituent asking about the Child Tax Credit (CTC) – the expansion of it being unknown to me at the time. As the days went on, more and more constituents would call and ask how to get it, when they should receive their money, if they were eligible for it, and so on. As the questions continued to roll in, I began to notice how many people were in need of this financial support from the government.  

For a single mother like Allina Diaz, a recent graduate of the University of Maine at Augusta, the expansion of the Child Tax Credit meant that she could spend time hunting for a job in a volatile market while resting assured that her two preteen daughters would not go without school clothes. With no more money coming in from her financial aid package and work-study jobs, and no income to offset her cost of living, Diaz used every means she could to pay for necessities during this difficult transition. SNAP covered food and Section 8 vouchers covered most of her housing costs, but there was still a gap in payments that was left to be covered and only about $1,200 left to pay for additional expenses, including gas and unforeseen needs. 

The expansion of the Child Tax Credit was the monthly sigh of relief that Diaz needed when the stress would weigh down on her from car payments and phone bills becoming expenses that were too much to bear, while balancing paying for her daughters’ school attire. Paying for new school clothes may seem mundane to some, but for families like Diaz’s, it is a budget-breaking necessity for growing children.  

The Child Tax Credit was more than just a monthly cash benefit; it was the beginning to an end of child poverty. With a payment that was so readily spent on food and clothing by 81.9 percent of households with incomes ranging from $35,000 to $99,999, the Child Tax Credit proved to be of immense immediate benefit to struggling families. Over 3 million children were lifted out of poverty beginning in July 2021 when the first checks were received. The statistics show that Congress should be able to continue to trust parents to use these payments wisely as they help pay for expenses that benefit children whether directly through food, clothing, and child care and/or indirectly through gas used for transportation.  

In a major disappointment to millions of families with children, the expanded Child Tax Credit was allowed to expire at the end of 2021. Now having reverted to the previous law, families with children can be too poor to receive the CTC. Parents or caregivers who are not able to work receive nothing; low-wage workers get less than the full $2,000 per child that families with higher incomes receive. For example, a single parent earning $15,000 with two children would receive no more than $1,875, while a similar parent earning $150,000 would get $4,000. Under current law, fully 19 million children either get less than the full CTC or nothing at all. That includes 46 percent of Black children, 39 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native children, and 37 percent of Latino children.   

The current work requirement fails to consider how some children are not raised by their parents as some grandparents have to take on the role of caregiver. In 2019 alone, approximately 6.2 million children lived with their grandparents alongside their parents and of that number, 1.1 million lived solely with their grandparents. The short-lived expansion of the Child Tax Credit allowed Melissa Boyles, former house cleaner and hospice worker, to provide a safe roof over her granddaughter’s head after facing the loss of both her parents and living in a hostile environment with little to no access to food. Though Boyles was not financially nor physically fit to raise another child, she still did not hesitate to answer 14-year-old Nevaeh’s call for help.  

With the health complications that Boyles endures, including a herniated disk, psychological issues from her son’s death, and multiple strokes, how can anyone expect her to work in order to receive financial assistance? Boyles’ disability benefits and monthly caretaker’s stipend were barely enough to get by to cover her and Nevaeh’s expenses until the monthly payments from the 2021 Child Tax Credit came to the rescue. Utilizing the $250 per month then provided, Boyles was able to not only feed and house Nevaeh with a new bed, but she was also able to provide her with the enjoyments of an American teenage lifestyle from buying tickets to a high school football game to buying a dress for homecoming. Every child deserves to experience these milestone moments regardless of financial circumstances, especially during this crucial time period of mental health development.  

When the expanded Child Tax Credit was not extended in the middle of a Maine winter, Allina Diaz found herself constantly worrying that her daughters would be without heat and warm water to bathe, saying that “I was afraid I’d wake up some morning and the kids couldn’t take a bath.”  

No child should be punished because Congress does not believe that their families should be entitled to basic economic security, especially when many parents are stuck in a dilemma of needing a job to afford child care but needing child care to get a job. The re-expansion of the Child Tax Credit would afford millions of families and children the needed cushion of support to eat regularly, pay the bills, not stress during holidays, have thoroughly clean clothes, and most important of all, enjoy being a kid. If Congress truly believes that children are our future, then they must act now to pass the American Family Act of 2023 or similar legislation to ensure that children’s wellbeing is not put on the backburner.

Expanded Child Tax Credit