Lawmakers should spend a night in a homeless shelter


April 26, 2024

If there’s one thing I could tell lawmakers, it would be to bring back the expanded, monthly, fully refundable Child Tax Credit.

Those monthly payments of up to $300 per child cut child poverty nearly in half in just a few months. And when the credit expired in late 2021, child poverty immediately shot back up. So we know it works.

Lawmakers are now considering a more modest expansion. It doesn’t go far enough, but it could lift another 400,000 kids out of poverty — children like the ones I worked with.

I grew up walking the fine line of having something and nothing all at the same time. I’ve experienced tumultuous times as an adult, and I’ve worked with people experiencing poverty and homelessness. I can tell lawmakers firsthand no matter which side of the coin families end up on, legislation and programs such as the Child Tax Credit, SNAP, WIC, and other safety net programs make a difference.

When I was growing up, my mother worked several minimum-wage jobs and relied on social programs to fill the gaps left by low wages. As a result, my siblings and I never had to sleep on the streets, go to school hungry, or wear tattered clothing like many children do.

With that help, I went on to graduate from the University of Central Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree. Eventually, I became a Child Welfare Investigator at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services following up on claims of neglect and abuse.

While I saw some of both, many of these cases were simply the conditions of poverty. Many caseworkers had never experienced poverty and couldn’t make the distinction, but I could. Unfortunately, poverty landed many children in the child welfare system.

With decent pay and benefits, I was able to buy a house. But the work was soul-crushing and I eventually burned out.

You do everything right, and still — boom! You’re knocked right down. One day you are employed with a good salary and benefits, the next you are unemployed without the means to afford the basics, even with a college degree. Married, pregnant, and unable to find decent work, I relied on SNAP and Medicaid to get by — barely.

My job changed, but the clients I work with haven’t.

Poverty puts them in impossible situations. They must choose between food or shelter, medical care or poor health, running water or electricity. It’s a vicious cycle of suffering.

Without a fixed address or help navigating the system, families can’t always access assistance programs that would help them.

If my clients had the expanded monthly Child Tax Credit, many could have afforded housing, clothing, and food — and escaped the cruel cycle of poverty. In his recent budget proposal, President Biden called on Congress to restore the expanded, pandemic-era Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit that lifted tens of millions out of poverty in 2021.

A newer bipartisan tax proposal before the Senate would help. It would modestly expand the Child Tax Credit, lifting 400,000 kids out of poverty and helping 16 million overall.

The bill passed the House with an overwhelming bipartisan majority but has stalled in the Senate, where some senators are blocking it for political gain. Families deserve better. The time for delay is over. The Senate needs to vote.

I challenge lawmakers to live on the $6 a day that SNAP recipients do, or to come and spend just one night in a shelter. Once they experience these hardships, they’ll restore the expanded Child Tax Credit faster than they can say “expand it.” Perhaps this should be a requirement of the job.

We must make our voices heard and speak for those who are silenced and often left out of policy discussion. We must restore the Child Tax Credit expansion and ensure the thriving of all

Child Tax Credit expansion