Families most in need who had received the Child Tax Credit (CTC) are feeling its loss this month.

Congress let that support expire at the end of last year, which had helped families to make ends meet during this pandemic. Families had received direct payments of $300 per month for children under the age of 6, and $250 per month for children over the age of 6.

While that amount may not seem huge, it was a monthly lifeline for poor families. The tax credit was reported to have helped as many as 645,000 families in Los Angeles last year. The Child Tax Credit, first implemented last July, helped families access the annual credit  without waiting a year to receive it after filing their tax returns.

The importance of resuming the benefit and the need for Congress to continue the monthly payments was discussed at a news briefing held by Ethnic Media Services on Jan. 7. 

“The monthly payments boost family’s incomes throughout the year, which helps families cover their essential monthly expenses like food and rent,” said Claire Zippel, senior research analyst in the Income and Poverty Trends team at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, adding “91% of households with incomes below $35,000 spent their Expanded Child Tax Credit payments on essentials like food, utilities, rent or mortgages, clothing, or education costs.”

The monthly tax credits were part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion Build Back Better Plan. It was eventually spun off to the American Jobs Plan. Through the Build Back Better Act, it would extend the benefits for another full year, but the bill in its current form is stalled.

Opposition has surprisingly come from Democrats as well as Republicans. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia objects to extending it claiming it would discourage some from working and fuel inflation.

As of now, the size of the credit is cut back to $2,000, some families earned as much as $3,600 per year under the Child Tax Credit. Families that earned enough income to have to pay taxes received the largest amount of tax credits; benefits to the poorest households were limited.  

Advocates for CTC monthly payments pointed to the serious impact and hardships caused by the pandemic, and the help the tax credits have provided for families suffering from financial hardship and food insufficiency. 

The Child Tax Credit had actually been in place since 1997, to offset the cost of raising children. But it expanded its benefit last year with the American Rescue Plan, which increased the maximum amount of tax credit families could receive and allowed families to get their tax credits in monthly payments.

“Usually families receive their tax credits once a year after they file their tax returns, but this can make it tough to budget since we know families face monthly expenses throughout the year. The Rescue Plan recognized that reality by delivering the child tax credit as a monthly payment and these payments have helped families cover essential bills like rent and groceries, but as we know the monthly payments have expired in December of last year,” Zippel explained.

Child Hunger Increased During the Pandemic

“The number of children facing hunger in the United States rose during the pandemic from more than 10 million children in 2019 to up to 12 million in 2020, and Black and Latino children are more than twice as likely to face hunger as white children because of systematic racial injustice,” said Loree Jones, CEO of Philabundance, a hunger relief organization operating in South Eastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey.

“Children who are hungry at an early age — children, infants, and babies — experience developmental impairments. In other words, their brains do not develop properly, leading to lack of language and motor skills. They are unable to focus in school, and can be held back or have to repeat grades in elementary school. Children who are hungry have more social and behavioral problems than their peers, and — importantly and sadly — children who are hungry have more suicidal ideation,” Jones said.

Expansion of the credit is tied to the $1.7 trillion Build Back Better Act currently being debated by Congress. The Child Tax Credit would add an estimated $105 billion per year to the budget, said Michelle Dallafior, senior vice president of Budget and Tax at First Focus on Children who directs the Children’s Budget Coalition.

The Senate entered a delayed recess Wednesday, Jan. 19, following the bruising battle over the voting rights bill. The body is expected to return to the Build Back Better legislation next week.

But families have already lost the monthly checks they would have received after 15th of this month.

“Under the current Child Tax Credit, it is estimated that child poverty will be cut by 40-45%, and it is helping to cut child poverty by more than 50% for Black children, more than 45% for Latino children, and more than 60% for Native American children,” Dallafior said.

Zippel said the tax credit “cuts poverty for children of every racial and ethnic background,” and it’s also projected to narrow the difference in poverty rates, especially between latino and white children, and White and Black children.

“These poverty reductions are so high, especially for Black and Latino children, because before the expansion roughly half of Black and Latino children received less than the full credit or no credit at all, because their parents’ incomes were too low,” Zippel said.

Dallafior points out the severity of what will be denied for children if the Build Back Better Act isn’t passed.

“Poverty will spike. We know that the November Child Tax Credit payments kept nearly 4 million children out of poverty,” she said. “We know access to full credit will be denied to lower earning households, roughly 1/3 of our families, disproportionately impacting Black and Brown families. Approximately 1 million children without a social security number will continue to be without the benefit. 

“The Build Back Better Act changes that. And children with an individual tax identification number would qualify for the child tax credit. Without Build Back Better, that’s not going to happen. In addition, the Build Back Better Act includes a provision where children in Puerto Rico would be able to access the monthly payments starting this July. Basically, [without the Build Back Better Act] financial insecurity would grow for the tens of millions of households with children,” Dallafior said.

Diana Martinez contributed to this article.