Bring back the child tax credit

Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and increased inflation, 15% of households with children reported food insufficiency in March and April of this year. Food insufficiency — defined as when individuals sometimes or often do not have enough food to eat in the past week — poses short- and long-term moral and economic threats to the United States.

Even brief disruptions in access to food can have lasting consequences. Not having enough to eat can disrupt children’s cognitive and emotional development and education. Research has pointed to the potentially lifelong ramifications of not having enough to eat in childhood, including an increased likelihood of poor health outcomes and avoidable medical expenditures across their lifespan.


Fortunately, Congress can help. Several studies indicate that advance Child Tax Credit (CTC) payments, expanded under the American Rescue Plan Act, reduced poverty and food insufficiency in households with children. From July to December of last year, the advance CTC payments were distributed as monthly cash payments of up to $300 per child to families with children under age 17. Caregivers earning less than $200,000 as a single adult or less than $400,000 as a married couple were eligible for the benefit, meaning nearly all households with children qualified.

In our previous research, we found that the expanded CTC was associated with a 26% decrease in food insufficiency in households with children as compared to those without. Our findings added to a growing body of evidence that the payments resulted in a 25% decline in food insufficiency and improved dietary quality for children.

On the flip side, according to our latest study (which is forthcoming), the CTC payments’ expiration was tied to an at least 12% increase in food insufficiency among households with children. (That’s about three to four times pre-pandemic levels.) And rates of food insufficiency have continued to climb since February.

The data is clear: Monthly CTC payments drastically reduced childhood poverty when they were in place. Now, as Congress turns its attention to the next reconciliation package, we must push to reinstate them, especially as inflation and the pandemic continue to deeply impact work, health and the economy.

Families with low incomes overwhelmingly spent their CTC payments on basic needs for children, including food, rent, utilities, clothing and educational costs. There is also no evidence suggesting a reduction in employment among parents in families receiving CTC payments.

Reinstating the payments may also help address another top concern for policymakers: rising teen opioid addiction and overdose deaths. Childhood stress and poverty are associated with overdoses and could be reduced by expanding CTC.

Some policy makers have considered adding work requirements to receive CTC benefits; such requirements carry an administrative burden for states and families. But, with food insufficiency concentrated in the lowest-income households with children, this would often prevent those who most need benefits from receiving them and result in negative outcomes.

Implementing an expanded CTC without exclusions due to work or immigration status is the best way to reach children in families with the greatest need, to the benefit of all children and society.

Julia Raifman is an assistant professor at the Boston University School of Public Health and leads the COVID-19 US State Policy Database. Allison Bovell-Ammon is the Director of Policy Strategy for Children’s HealthWatch at Boston Medical Center.

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