The pandemic has shined a bright spotlight on many challenges in everyday life. Among the most trying, which impacts millions of families across our state and the entire country, is the cost of raising children.
Fortunately, last year, families in my district and across the country got relief thanks to the leadership of President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress, including Rep. Kathy Castor. The American Rescue Plan, which was signed into law in early 2021, provided a much-needed tax cut for parents through an expansion of the Child Tax Credit. This provision provided low- and middle-income parents with monthly payments of up to $3,600 for every child under the age of 6 and up to $3,000 for every child between six and seventeen.
The expanded tax credit, however, expired at the end of 2021 because of Congress’ failure to act and Republican obstruction.
As we look back at our incomes, tax burdens and the relief provided by the child tax credit, and look forward to the new year, Monday’s filing deadline reminds us of the critical importance of making the expanded child tax credit permanent. With the high cost of child care, the rising costs of food, gas and utilities, and our continued efforts to overcome the pandemic, now is not the time for Congress to turn their backs on millions of American families.
As someone who became a mother very young, and was a single mom for many years, I know first hand the many challenges every day Floridians face when choosing between feeding their children or themselves, wondering where their next paycheck is going to come from or how their kid will get those eyeglasses they so desperately need. Parents receiving this tax credit can spend more time with their children, making sure they can succeed in school rather than working a second or third job.
My story is not unique, but with the skyrocketing costs of everyday goods and gas, this tax credit makes a huge difference in the pockets of Floridians.
The expanded child tax credit reached more than 36 million American families with more than 61 million children in 2021, including an estimated 3,886,000 kids in Florida across 2,478,000 families.
An analysis by the Center on Budget Priorities found that nearly 9 in 10 low-income families in Florida used the monthly payments on basic needs or education. Not only were parents able to buy food and clothing and cover housing, utilities and education costs, but the payments brought child poverty to record lows, reducing it by about 30 percent, and helped cut food insufficiency by more than a quarter.
The expanded child tax credit amounts to a tax cut for middle- and low-income Americans — and it works. But unless Congress follows President Biden’s lead, the progress we’ve made could be lost.
In Florida alone, 91 percent of children and their families would lose out if the expanded child tax credit is not extended; and 700,000 children would be at risk of sliding back below the poverty line or deeper into poverty.
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The dignity of greater financial stability and being able to help create better lives for our children is not a one-year goal for parents, and fostering an environment to make this possible shouldn’t just be a short-term goal for our elected leaders in Washington either. I hope that as members of Congress file their taxes this year like the rest of us, they understand the life-altering, community-sustaining impacts of making the expanded child tax credit permanent.
Janet Cruz is a Democrat who represents Tampa in the Florida Senate. A mother at 16, she attended Hillsborough Community College and started a small business to support her young family.