The Philadelphia Inquirer: Congressional Democrats can do better than expand the child tax credit through 2025

Beginning July 15, families across Philadelphia started receiving up to $300 per child in monthly payments thanks to the newly expanded child tax credit. Some congressional Democrats are now pushing to expand the tax credit through 2025. We should be making it permanent.

Working families across our city have been able to use this extra money to put food on the table and make rent payments in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as buy clothes and purchase school supplies.

As the poorest large city in the nation, Philadelphia has already begun dramatically slashing child poverty. The city has estimated that 75,000 people could be lifted out of poverty due to this program. Across Pennsylvania, about 90% of children are eligible for this benefit.

While the child tax credit has been around since 1997, the American Rescue Plan championed by President Joe Biden to address the economic fallout caused by the pandemic contains a newly revamped version that reaches more families and is fully refundable — which means that families can obtain these critical resources even if they don’t owe taxes.

At the Campaign for Working Families, our mission is to ensure that families take advantage of all the resources to which they are entitled to reduce the impact of poverty on our communities — and particularly on our children.

We have seen firsthand how the expanded child tax credit is helping the families we serve achieve stability in deeply uncertain times and mitigate the impacts of poverty on children. Children who live below the poverty line are more likely to have problems in school, suffer from emotional issues, and even contract chronic diseases that impact the heart and lungs. These damaging effects can have a lifelong negative impact on a child’s outlook.

Thanks to the leadership of President Biden and our local congressmen, Dwight Evans and Brendan Boyle, this expanded child tax credit has helped lessen the impacts of COVID-19 on children’s lives. Parents have not had to worry that employment disrupted by stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements could spell disaster for their families.

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However, the crisis facing children across our city won’t abate even as vaccination rates increase, as children return to school and businesses reopen.

For too many families in Philadelphia, severe, endemic poverty was a way of life even before the pandemic. Single mothers working two jobs in the service sector still couldn’t afford rent, pay for food, and cover other essentials. About 530,000 Philadelphians are “cost-burdened,” a technical term used by the government meaning that they face chronic housing insecurity and may have to skimp on groceries or medicine to cover rent.

Because the crisis facing Philadelphia families won’t go away even as the pandemic hopefully recedes, it is essential that the child tax credit doesn’t, either.

Under the current legislation, the expanded tax credit is set to expire at the end of this year. As we make great strides in finally eliminating child poverty in Philadelphia, it is essential that we don’t go backward.

As part of President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, Congress is set to take up this proposal in the coming weeks, with the goal of getting final legislation to the president’s desk by the end of the month.

Reps. Evans and Boyle both sit on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over the tax credit. Both have been staunch champions of programs that help our working families. While a temporary extension is a good first step, we want to work with them to make the expanded child tax credit permanent so that families will always be able to count on these critical supports.

As we seek to build a 21st-century economy that works for all families, not just a chosen few, it is essential that our most vulnerable children are put at the top of the agenda.

Mary Arthur is president and CEO of the Campaign for Working Families, a nonprofit organization committed to helping working families and individuals achieve economic empowerment by providing free tax preparation, resource building, and asset development.