Expanding Child Tax Credit Improved Kids’ Lives. Congress Should Do It Again.

All mothers want their children to have enough to eat, a safe home, and the opportunity to thrive, and the American Rescue Plan’s expanded Child Tax Credit provided critical financial support to help mothers build this solid foundation for their children — but only for 2021. As we celebrate Mother’s Day, Congress should recognize the contributions of mothers by expanding the Child Tax Credit for 2022 and beyond, most importantly by making the full credit available to children in families with low or no earnings, who otherwise get only a partial credit or no credit at all.

Mothers bore the brunt of the additional child caretaking responsibilities created by the pandemic, balancing work, child care, and their children’s schoolwork. Many mothers had to leave their jobs or take unpaid leave to care for their children. For example, in June 2021 over 6 million women (and 1 million men) reported not working for pay because they were caring for children not in school or day care, our analysis of the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey shows.

For six months, from July through December 2021, the Rescue Plan helped ease their financial burdens and stress by providing advance monthly payments of the Child Tax Credit of up to $300 per child under age 6 ($250 for children 6 through 17). Families with low incomes largely used these payments to pay for everyday expenses — food, housing, clothing, and utilities — as well as education. Roughly 32 million mothers (defined broadly to include grandmothers and other women caring for children) and more than 65 million children benefited from the Rescue Plan’s expanded Child Tax Credit, we estimate. But the expansion expired at the end of 2021, leaving mothers to face rising costs and inadequate or unaffordable child care without the needed support that an expanded Child Tax Credit would provide.

The most important feature of the Rescue Plan’s Child Tax Credit expansion was its “full refundability” provision, which made the full credit available to an estimated 12 million mothers and 27 million children whose families previously were eligible for no credit or less than $2,000 per child because their earnings were too low. This included roughly half of all Black and Latino children and about half of children who live in rural areas. (Other provisions of the Rescue Plan raised the maximum value of the credit and extended it to cover 17-year-olds, not just children 16 and under.)

Making the credit fully refundable again would reduce child poverty by roughly 20 percent, lifting an estimated 2 million children above the poverty line, and help millions of others.

A couple of examples demonstrate the impact in 2022:

  • A single mother with a toddler and a child in elementary school works part time around her kids’ schedule, earning $15,000 a year as a child care worker. Under current law she receives a Child Tax Credit of $1,875. If the current credit were fully refundable, she would receive a $4,000 credit ($2,000 per child).
  • A married mother with an infant and toddler, whose spouse cares for their kids at home, earns $25,000 a year working full time as a home health aide. Under current law they receive a Child Tax Credit of $3,000. If the current credit were fully refundable, they would receive $4,000.

Research shows that additional income, like from an expanded Child Tax Credit, helps children in families with low incomes do better in school and live healthier lives, and lifts their earning potential as adults. An expanded Child Tax Credit would acknowledge and support the work that mothers do every day to give their children safety, stability, and opportunity.