Starting in July, RoDena Lloyd’s five children were lifted out of poverty by the Biden administration’s expansion of the child tax credit (CTC), which delivered cash infusions to families across America.
But at the end of December, the CTC expired and Congress has thus far not extended it.
By late January, 3.7 million U.S. children were plunged back into poverty, according to a recently released Columbia University report.
Lloyd, a home health aide who lives with her children, ages 4 through 11, and her disabled husband, Adrien Sr., in Morton, Delaware County, said they’d again fallen below the poverty line — around $42,000 for a family of seven: “The money went away, and now there’s a big hole.”
With the stipend, which had amounted to around $250 to $300 a month for each of the children, Lloyd, 34, was able to buy more nutritious food, pay for the older kids to play sports, and get all of them new shoes.
Since the flow of money stopped, however, Lloyd said she’s begun raiding the savings accounts she’d set up for the children to pay bills.
“We were climbing out of a bad place,” she said, “and now we’re right back in it.”
The Biden administration had anticipated that the expanded CTC would be so popular that Congress would automatically renew it for 2022 and beyond.
That it didn’t happen “is a tragedy, a self-inflicted wound,” said Indivar Dutta-Gupta, director of the Georgetown University Center on Poverty and Inequality.
During his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Biden referenced the CTC as he listed his goals for the nation: “Let’s ... raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and extend the Child Tax Credit, so no one has to raise a family in poverty.”
Between July and December 2021, the Internal Revenue Service paid out monthly CTC payments at an annual rate of $3,000 per child ages 6 to 17, and $3,600 per child under 6, reaching more than 61 million children, the Columbia report said.
“It was a historic achievement,” said Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, a Washington-based nonprofit that helps low-income Americans. “It’s almost unthinkable we’d push them back into poverty, but that is what’s happened.”
According to Columbia, the monthly child poverty rate increased 41% — from 12.1% in December to 17% in January, the highest rate since the end of 2020.
One in four Black children in the United States lived with a monthly income below the monthly poverty line in January, an increase of more than 600,000 Black children from the month prior and a 30% rise.
Latino children, of whom 1.3 million fell into child poverty during that period, saw a 43% rise.
That the expiration of the CTC almost immediately increased poverty in households with children proves that “keeping children in poverty is a policy choice,” said University of Pennsylvania sociologist Pilar Gonalons-Pons, an expert on families. “We have tools to support families with children in poverty.
“When we use these tools, the damaging experience of poverty among children can be remedied. When we don’t, we allow it to continue.”
Much of the damage inflicted by poverty is endless stress, which cripples health and well-being into the future, said Janet Chrzan, nutritional anthropologist at the Penn School of Nursing.
One major stressor is food insecurity. While many low-income parents go hungry to allow their children to eat, Chrzan said, “kids see what’s going on. And watching their parents go without meals actually causes stress in children, even though they’re eating.
“That stress will affect health, income, and children’s lives into adulthood.”
It’s important to remember that helping those in poverty benefits the country as a whole, said Ashley Putnam, director, Economic Growth and Mobility Project for the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
Programs that ameliorate poverty, she said, are investments in the future of our economy: “It’s about our businesses, our region, our growth collectively.”
Opponents of extending the CTC, including Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, as well as many Republicans, say that providing cash to families would serve to stymie antipoverty efforts by persuading people not to work, and simply collect government funding. They’ve called for attaching work requirements to any stipend program, which helped forestall the extension of CTC.
In a widely recognized study last fall, Columbia University found that “the enhanced CTC has had no negative impact on workforce participation among parents.”
Although the CTC expansion was short-lived, it was still worth it, Dutta-Gupta said: “Even a short run of poverty does great harm, so we made a significant investment in our nation’s future even if it was for six months.
“Delaying hardship is valuable.”
And, advocates say, it should be remembered that the CTC was meant to be a yearlong program. Because many people, such as the Lloyd family, began receiving the benefit in July, they are still owed six months of cash, said Kathy Fisher, director of government affairs for the anti-hunger agency Philabundance.
But, there are two conditions. First, the money will be given only to people who file their 2021 income taxes this year. That could be a problem because many low-income people don’t ever file, often because they don’t make enough. Individuals who didn’t file last year were given a break they won’t get in 2022.
Second, even if people do file their taxes, the CTC won’t be mailed to them in monthly installments as it was last year. Instead, the money will come in one lump sum, making it more difficult to meet monthly bill payments.
Ultimately, said Latonya Brandon, 46, of Camden, a cosmetologist who saw her three grandchildren escape then plummet back into poverty with the cessation of CTC payments, people were grateful for “that little boost.”
But, she added, “When it goes away, it’s messed up. It’s almost like you’ve got rice and broccoli in front of you, then someone snatches the rice.”
“These are trying times for everybody. We’re just working to get ahead.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.