#WordinBlack: Advocates say expansion of child tax credit and continued pandemic assistance could pull 4 million students out of poverty

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Parents can choose to begin advancing half of their child tax credit as early as July 2021, or elect to receive a lump sum when taxes are filed in 2022. (Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash)

By Alexis Taylor
Special to the AFRO

As the true impact of the coronavirus pandemic comes into focus, early data trends show that millions of students and their families desperately need economic relief.

According to The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Book, 12 million children are living in poverty across the country- and 49 percent of them are Black.

Advocates joined together on a live stream this week to call for an expansion of the child tax credit and continued economic assistance beyond 2022, which they say could push more than four million children out of poverty.

“We’d like to see the child tax credits (CTC) extended for at least another five years,” said Ayesha B. Holmes, director of No Kid Hungry Maryland. “In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, as many as one in six children in Maryland could be facing hunger this year.”

According to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, “The CTC was created in 1997 as part of the Taxpayer Relief Act” and originally amounted to only $400 for each child 16 or younger. The next year it went up to $500, and by 2018 the credit had reached $2,000 per child.

Then a global pandemic hit, stealing more than 602,000 lives to date.

Under The American Rescue Plan the child tax credit increased to $3,000 per child 17 or younger and $3,600 for a child below the age of six. No cap will be applied to families with multiple children. In 2021 parents can choose to begin advancing their tax credit as early as July. Half of the credit can be dispersed in increments over a six month period, with the remaining balance available when taxes are filed in 2022.

This means parents with a child six years old or younger would receive $300 a month starting in July, to assist with all costs associated with caring for a minor. The remaining $1,800 is credited when taxes are filed. Parents of children between the ages of seven and 17 would receive $250 a month for six months, with the remaining $1,500 credited in 2022 when taxes are filed. Unlike original guidelines in 1997, the child tax credit is refundable. Parents will receive money if the credit exceeds taxes owed. They can also choose to collect a lump sum next year with no advancements.

A non-refundable $500 credit is available for parents of dependents who turn 18 at any point in the 2021 calendar year, or full-time college students between the ages of 19 and 24.

Single parents who are head of household can earn no more than $112,500 to be eligible for the credit and couples can make no more than $150,000 in combined income.

To directly impact the lives of students across the country, advocates are also calling for the permanent institution of initiatives like the Pandemic- Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT). According to the Maryland Department of Human Services, the program was created during the pandemic school closures “to cover breakfast, lunch, and a snack for eligible children who would have received these meals at their school, for five days a week.”

Aside from extending or permanenting the child tax credits increases and P-EBT, organizers are also specifically targeting the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act. Currently, CEP allows entire schools to qualify for free lunch, instead of requiring students to apply individually.

Holmes said that CEP “takes away the stigma, no child is denied a free meal- everyone is eligible,” adding that the move would “ increase the number of children being fed by 3 million” across the country.

Currently, schools are hesitant to take up CEP because they are only reimbursed according to how many students actually qualify for reduced lunch and other programs like SNAP and TANF.

The report shows that 157,000 Maryland children are living in poverty and their families are in desperate need of economic assistance. Fourteen percent of the households in the state reported not having enough to eat March 3-29 of this year.

From employment to housing and healthcare, mental health and literacy rates, the data shows how the country and the pandemic have been experienced differently for students living in poverty.

Last year as schools switched to remote learning to curb the explosion of coronavirus cases, roughly 16% of students were left out of virtual educational experiences due to a lack of internet access or technology. Students of color were disproportionately represented in this number as “one in four Black households and one in five Latino households” lacked necessary resources to complete virtual learning.

Advocates for Children and Youth Research Director, Nonso Umunna said that it is crucial to dig deep into data to understand how Black and Latino families are being disproportionately affected by poverty- especially when combined race data shows improvement.

For example, the KIDS COUNT Data Book reports that the average number of families paying a high housing cost fell from 41% in 2010 to 30% in 2019, prior to the pandemic.

“You can look at the numbers and see progress, but when you peel through it you see that not everyone is making progress,” said Umunna. “It is important to dig deep into the numbers to see who is impacted more.”

When studied by race, a glaring picture emerges. Forty three percent of African- American families were experiencing high housing costs in 2019, compared to 39% of Latino families and 21% of their White counterparts.

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