Motherhood has been both the best experience of my life and the toughest challenge I’ve ever faced.
Even though I had a well-paying job, health insurance and an outstanding caregiver for my daughter, as well as very supportive parents who lived a mile away, I constantly felt like I was hanging on by my fingertips when I became a single mother in my early 30s. So I can imagine how challenging it is for families without such a safety net during a global pandemic. This is the reality facing millions of women and children in the United States. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The budget package Congress is working to advance as part of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan would bolster health care, create jobs and provide much-needed support to working families hit hard by the pandemic. That support would include a four-year extension of the expanded Child Tax Credit, one of the most effective programs currently helping 96 percent of families with children.
The historic expansion of the CTC in the American Rescue Plan was created to give millions of children a lifeline out of poverty, providing eligible families up to $300 per month for each child under the age of 6 and up to $250 per month for each child aged 6-17. These monthly payments are also expected to slash childhood poverty by 40 percent compared with pre-pandemic levels and lift 4.1 million children above the poverty line. So far, over 61 million children have received these life-changing monthly benefits.
In its scale and the speed of its effectiveness, the CTC program is already groundbreaking. After only two months of payments, data from the Census Bureau shows a clear and immediate decline in food insecurity and financial hardship for families with children. Most families used their payments to buy groceries, pay utilities and purchase school supplies for the upcoming school year, while others repaid credit cards and other debt they had accrued covering household needs during the pandemic.
While the vast majority of families receive their CTC payments automatically, there is still critical work to be done to ensure that every eligible family is able to access this life-changing benefit. An estimated 5 million households need to take further action to claim their monthly payments. The majority of these families do not earn enough money to file taxes, making less than $12,000 per year as individuals or $24,000 per year as a couple. We can only deliver on the full promise of the CTC if everyone who is eligible — particularly these very low-income families — can access their benefits.
That is why groups like the United State of Women, which I co-chair, are launching on-the-ground initiatives to reach and educate non-filers as soon as possible. Our campaign is focused on mobilizing partner organizations and grassroots leaders to reach millions of eligible women. USOW is also mobilizing volunteers to directly contact eligible parents and provide them with the tools and information to claim their credit.
The CTC is proof positive that government programs can improve lives, especially at a time when many parents —in particular, working mothers of color — are struggling to reenter the workforce and regain the jobs they lost during the pandemic. And the ripple effect from this program benefits everyone, not just parents. New analysis shows that over the next year, CTC expansion would boost consumer spending by $27 billion, generate $1.9 billion in revenues and support over 500,000 thousand full-time jobs.
However, without further action from Congress, the CTC is set to expire this December — potentially doubling child poverty, increasing childhood hunger and making it difficult for families to afford child care, school supplies and more.
I urge Congress to remember that we can fight poverty with the right policy. While a four-year extension of the CTC is a step in the right direction, lawmakers must make this benefit permanent. Only then can we build an inclusive and equitable economy that works for all families and gives countless hardworking Americans, and especially women, a real shot at success.
Valerie Jarrett was a senior adviser to President Barack Obama and the former chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls. She is currently a co-chair of the United State of Women, an initiative of Civic Nation dedicated to empowering women and all people of marginalized genders.