With the stroke of a pen, President Biden signed a provision in the US bailout plan designed to bring nearly 10 million children above or closer to the poverty line this year.
Extending the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to include child support is not only an important step in ensuring that post-pandemic families have money to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, but also important public health action that promotes equity and improves family wellbeing.
How does the law help children?
The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis have exposed inequalities that have long existed in the United States. Long before the pandemic, every seventh child in our country lived in poverty, which, due to centuries of discriminatory measures and structural racism, disproportionately affected children of the same color as children in immigrant families. During the current crisis, the same families have been hardest hit by disease and death from COVID-19, job loss, housing instability and food insecurity.
The CTC extension is a direct response to the current economic crisis and is an important down payment for reducing child poverty and promoting justice. The new child benefit will pay 93% of children in the US regularly, even in very low-income families. The payments are not considered income, so families participating in other assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Families in Need (TANF), or Housing Assistance will not be penalized for increasing financial resources.
In addition to the well-documented effects on poverty reduction, our work and research at Boston Medical Center suggest that these changes will improve the physical and mental health of children, parents, and entire communities. Research from Children’s HealthWatch consistently shows that children are healthier and have better cognitive development. Parents are less stressed and better able to achieve financial goals when families can afford food, rent, supplies, childcare, and other expenses.
Get the word out
Families must file taxes to claim child benefit, which has made it more important than ever to provide tax returns and education about these confusing rules. At Boston Medical Center, we offer free tax preparation and financial advice to pediatric families through a program called StreetCred, where staff help families apply for the CTC and work with them to promote financial stability.
We’ve also developed messages that dispel myths like the fear of being arrested for tax evasion and let people know that if they haven’t filed their taxes in the past 3 years, they can apply for multiple years of tax refund immediately – with no penalty – without penalty to have . As tax law changes, we will continue to adjust our messages to provide accurate information. Some of the effective messaging strategies we’ve used include brief, systematic conversations during clinic visits, bulk text and electronic health record messaging, social media, and working with community-based organizations.
What clinicians can do
We are fortunate to work in a large hospital system with resources to support the work in this area. However, all pediatricians and health care providers can help families in small ways. Something as simple as informing a family about child support during a routine visit can be transformative. So far, the majority of the families we’ve spoken to are unaware of the loan or mistakenly believe that they would not qualify.
A quick search of the IRS website near you will find IRS-sponsored Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) websites to refer your low-income patient families to (income limit $ 56,000). You can also tell them that if they earn less than $ 72,000 they can use free software available on the IRS website.
Tax law is complex, but the perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good. You can say something like, “The new stimulus plan that President Biden passed means that families with children can get new child support that is a few hundred dollars a month for each child. To get it, you need yours File taxes. “”
Many of the families we see will benefit greatly from this child benefit. Parents constantly tell us a desire not only to afford basic needs, but also to achieve financial goals that will allow their children to flourish.
The American rescue plan should be commended for the tremendous step it has taken to tackle child poverty in the United States. This year’s expansion of the CTC provides much-needed relief to families struggling to make ends meet, but for families to achieve their goals we must make this historic expansion permanent. Our children and the future health and prosperity of our country depend on progressive measures such as child support that promote financial stability, improve health, promote justice and create a better future for all.
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