At first talks between the President of the United States and a single senator last week did not result in an agreement on a reconciliation bill and, as a result, the legislation was delayed until January at the earliest.  That senator, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), first appeared to be taking aim at the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and then on Sunday December 19, 2021, he blindsided the White House with his outright opposition to the entire legislation.

For several months Senator Manchin has been open about his opposition to a paid family and medical leave program, now he is extending his opposition to the CTC. The CTC was shortened as it came from the House, in part to pacify the Senator but now many Washington DC-based news sources reported he suggested to the President that he drop the House one-year extension all together.

Some senators responded by insisting that the CTC had to stay in with Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) quoted as saying “Its not going to get zeroed out, that’s non-negotiable.”  Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) also said, “We need the child tax credit.  It has cut childhood poverty in half.” At the same time, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) was looking for a way to extend the CTC, a “workaround” that could pass before the Senate leaves.  Wyden said, “We want to do everything humanly possible to keep the child tax credit on track.”

CTC and family and medical leave are both important priorities for CWLA.  The possibility of lifting half of this county’s poor children above the poverty level could be the single biggest tool and contributing factor in creating a powerful strategy that would reduce child neglect resulting in future reductions in foster care placements. It could be the most significant action Congress could do to the long-term decreasing of foster care placements, more significant than the 2018-passed Families First Act.

What’s at stake: the United States Department of Treasury has released their December data, with a state by state breakout.  It shows that more than 61 million children received the payment, in over 36 million families, with average payment per family of $444.  In West Virginia, 305,000 children received the payment, in 181,000 families, with their payments averaging $446 in December alone. According to the Coalition on Human Needs, the latest Census data on West Virginia indicates that children under the age of eighteen are 20 percent of that state’s total population of nearly 1.8 million people.  That suggests that 85 percent of West Virginia’s children are benefiting from the CTC.

The 2019 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine identified strategies to reduce the number of children in poverty. In their report, A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty, they concluded:

“A wealth of evidence suggests that a lack of adequate family economic resources compromises children’s ability to grow and achieve success in adulthood, hurting them and the broader society as well…

“Some children are resilient to a number of the adverse impacts of poverty, but many studies show significant associations between poverty and child maltreatment, adverse childhood experiences, increased material hardship, worse physical health, low birth weight, structural changes in brain development, mental health problems, decreased educational attainment, and increased risky behaviors, delinquency, and criminal behavior in adolescence and adulthood. As for the timing and severity of poverty, the literature documents that poverty in early childhood, prolonged poverty, and deep poverty are all associated with worse child and adult outcomes.”

We also know that poverty can contribute to child neglect. Several parental stressors are associated with chronic neglect, including poverty, mental health issues, and substance abuse (Tanner & Turney, 2003; Wilson & Horner, 2003).

Of all forms of maltreatment, neglect has the strongest relationship to poverty (Loman, 2006). This relationship is not causal but contributory—neglect is strongly associated with measures of socioeconomic disadvantage, which include welfare dependence, homelessness, low levels of education, and single-parent families, and limited income.

In other words, one of our best strategies for preventing child abuse, decreasing foster care placements, and limiting other forms of child welfare is to reduce child poverty. A child’s future should not be determined by the zip code into which they are born.  In 2020, Senator Manchin’s state of West Virginia had 7,334 children in foster care (September 30, 2020) that is almost 3000 more children in foster care than there were in 2013 (4,389).

The Columbia University Center on Poverty and Social Policy has released new monthly poverty numbers for November 2021: Specifically, they find the November Child Tax Credit payment, on its own, kept 3.8 million children from poverty last month. This is the highest monthly anti-poverty impact they have seen to date. The first payment back in July kept 3 million children from poverty and the anti-poverty effects have grown over time as the IRS has reached more children.

What seemed like the realization of dream that would allow the United States to take on child poverty head-on may now be fading unless the Senate can act soon in January.  Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) has moved up the start of the second session of the 117th Senate to January 3, instead of January 10, 2022.

Manchin had already made his opposition to creating a paid family and medical leave which has resulted in a major campaign to place a much smaller provision in the Senate bill, but advocates are still struggling against the Manchin opposition.  In both situations he says he does not oppose a CTC or family leave but doesn’t offer a strategy to pass them separately.

As the National Academies stated, “Poverty alleviation can promote children’s development, both because of the goods and services that parents can buy for their children and because it may promote a more responsive, less stressful environment in which more positive parent-child interactions can take place.”

CWLA members can go to the advocacy center and tell their Senators and Members of the House to Pass the Build Back Better Plan Now!