As Congress debates a child tax credit expansion, families struggle to get by

Lawmakers and staffers are working through the weekend on Capitol Hill as they close out the Congressional term. Democrats are hoping the last-minute dealmaking will give them a final chance to secure an elusive policy goal: expanding the child tax credit. Laura Barrón-López reports.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Lawmakers are working through the weekend as they close out the congressional term and try to avoid a government shutdown later this coming week. As Laura Barron-Lopez reports, Democrats are hoping the last minute deal making buys them a final chance to secure an elusive policy goal, expanding the child tax credit.

  • Laura Barron-Lopez:

    And it's closing days Congress tries to put a bow on its budget as families struggling with their own hope for more help from DC in the new year.

  • Mali Gank, Child Tax Credit Recipient:

    As a parent, one of the biggest stressors and anxiety inducers that I ever have is the feeling that I am not providing enough, I am not doing enough. I am not able to give them everything that they need and many things that they want.

  • Laura Barron-Lopez:

    Mali Gank teaches middle school history in small town West Virginia. She misses last year,

  • Mali Gank:

    We could breathe easier, and everything felt more secure.

  • Laura Barron-Lopez:

    But this year, Congress left a hole in her checkbook. As part of their response to the pandemic, Democrats expanded access to the child tax credit in 2021 and increased the maximum benefit from $2,000 per child to 3,600. Gank's cost swelled with the arrival of twin boys that February. $900 a month meant fuel for the woodstove, stocked shelves and critical home and car repairs.

  • Mali Gank:

    It also gave us the opportunity to take care of medical things immediately. Instead of waiting until we could budget for it. We tried very hard not to depend on it because we didn't trust that it wouldn't go away.

  • Laura Barron-Lopez:

    Gank and her family managed to save some of last year's extra credit. But Congress let the expansion expire. And this year, their benefit will drop from nearly $11,000 to roughly 6,000.

  • Gank:

    Most of the time, we are very much waiting until the end of the month to determine whether or not we have what we need for the next month.

  • Laura Barron-Lopez:

    It's a struggle she lives at home and sees at school where the return of financial stress is evident in student's clothes and on their faces.

  • Gank:

    It shouldn't be crossed fingers, say a prayer pipe dream to hope that my kids would have the basic things that they need, and that their families would have the ability to take care of them without lying awake at night wondering what catastrophe might send them spiraling.

  • Laura Barron-Lopez:

    Columbia University's Megan Curran sees millions of experiences like those of gang students in the national data collected last year.

    Megan Curran, Columbia University Center on Poverty and Social Policy: So we have the evidence here with the expanded child tax credit is really clear. On balance, it was a really, really good thing for kids and for their families. The expanded Child Tax Credit helped to reduce child poverty to the lowest level we've ever seen it in this country.

  • Laura Barron-Lopez:

    U.S. census and IRS data suggest the expanded credit lifted nearly 4 million kids out of poverty, cutting the rate nearly in half, researchers found the greatest benefit for black and Latino children, single parent homes and large families, those living in rural areas and those with young kids. All groups historically cut off from the Child Tax Credit due to lower earnings.

  • Megan Curran:

    We stopped sort of tying the credit to all of these types of circumstances that kids can control. And then gaps were closed. And all of the kids who used to be left out were included. This was a game changer.

  • Laura Barron-Lopez:

    But when the $100 billion expansion expired, so did the gains in financial stability, food security and equity. The issue split Congress, its fate largely decided by one Democratic senator West Virginia's Joe Manchin.

  • Man:

    You're done. This is — this is a no.

  • Sen. Joe Manchin (D) West Virginia:

    This is a no.

  • Laura Barron-Lopez:

    Manchin would eventually sign off on the President's legislative agenda, but only after securing about a trillion dollars worth of cuts, including the extension of the more generous credit. Manchin and Republicans argued parents could live off of the government and that added cost would intensify inflation. He demanded a work requirement, ground the rest of his party refused to give until now. Democrats are hoping to sell Manchin and 10 Republicans on a watered down expansion in exchange for corporate tax breaks.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) New York:

    Our caucus feels very strongly that your child tax credit should be there. As long as there are some corporate tax breaks and so far we don't have agreement from the Republicans.

  • Laura Barron-Lopez:

    Some conservatives appear open to a deal.

  • Michael Strain, American Enterprise Institute:

    I have a number of concerns about the way that the expansion was initially constructed.

  • Laura Barron-Lopez:

    Michael Strain with the conservative American Enterprise Institute says that the expansion and previous iterations are overly generous to those who are not in desperate need.

  • Michael Strain:

    The question is not whether or not the way that credit was structured would be expected to reduce employment. If the answer is yes, it would be expected to produce employment. The right question to debate is whether or not that's worth it in terms of the reduction in poverty reasonable people could disagree on that point.

  • Laura Barron-Lopez:

    He says a work requirement is not necessary, but incentives to work are. Data on the impact a more generous program has on the labor force is mixed.

    Back in West Virginia, Chris Gank, Mali's husband stays home with the kids. Daycare options are sparse and cost more than he would earn. Mali's picked up extra jobs with the school since the expanded credit expired to help cover small expenses, but at the cost of time with her family. She's not counting on Congress providing more help, but she's hopeful. For PBS News Weekend, I'm Laura Barron-Lopez.

Listen to this Segment