Exhausted Parents Need the CTC’s Relief

By Maryann Broxton

Maryann Broxton is a member of CLASP’s Community Partnership Group (CPG). The CPG is a diverse collective of activists who partner with nonprofits, administering agencies, and policymakers to ensure that their work is grounded in the expertise of people directly impacted by poverty and/or anti-poverty policies. Each CPG member has developed their expertise through direct experience with public benefits programs—whether through participation or discriminatory exclusion—and their ongoing advocacy to eliminate poverty and barriers to access and inclusion within their communities.

I’m tired. I’m tired because as a person with direct experience of poverty working in the policy realm, it’s hard doing this work when you’re still living this work. I’m tired because I can’t begin to discuss policy with policymakers when all my time is first spent convincing them that people in poverty deserve humanity and dignity. And they deserve support not because they meet work requirements, income limits, or an ever-increasing, ever-changing list of prerequisites, but simply because they are human. And I’m tired of people in poverty having to repeatedly share their trauma to convince policymakers to do their job of voting for policies that offer a little relief to their constituents.

As I write this, I’m afraid the Build Back Better Act (BBB), which is again on hold, won’t pass. Members of Congress cite multiple excuses for their lack of support. One is cost—even though they easily passed a $768 billion defense bill that included an additional $25 billion above the amount requested. The next excuse is inflation, even though BBB is “unlikely to have any noticeable effect on inflation.”

The latest point of contention for one member of Congress is the BBB’s Child Tax Credit (CTC) provision, which would extend the temporary changes made under the American Rescue Plan. These include monthly CTC payments of $250 to $300 per child from July 15 to December 15, 2021 and making the credit available to the lowest-income families. Families will get the remainder of their 2021 CTC payment when they file their taxes this year (or the whole credit, if they didn’t receive the monthly payments).

To be honest, I’ve had mixed feelings about the fanfare around the CTC. Hearing that it would reduce child poverty by nearly half, I wanted to know what would happen to the remaining children, and why are we content with them remaining in poverty? But as the saying goes, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

People in poverty have been socially conditioned to expect the bare minimum in the form of support, belief, and even humanity. And the public has been taught to believe false stereotypes about people living in poverty, like they’re lazy or irresponsible. So, I wasn’t surprised when at least one policymaker publicly opposed the CTC citing a belief that “parents would use their Child Tax Credit to buy drugs.”

Poverty is a policy choice based on institutional apathy. Or in this case, as with many others before it, racist and classist tropes.

Like millions of other people in this country, my poverty had nothing to do with drug use. It was from a lack of affordable child care, health care, and housing, as well as needing to care for an elderly parent, which are all typical needs of families—and that the BBB would support. It wasn’t because I was lazy or didn’t want to work, which is another reason, disproven by research, for opposing the CTC. I experienced poverty due to the lack of a living wage, lack of pay parity, a regressive tax system, disability, and a lack of money to fully provide for and sustain my family.

I am tired that the CTC monthly payments are being allowed to expire despite research showing their impact on poverty—and countless parents living in poverty who have taken time out of their busy lives to share their stories with members of Congress. It doesn’t matter that CTC recipients spent a majority of their monthly installments on basic necessities for survival—food, housing, clothing. It doesn’t matter that letting the CTC expire is “literally taking food out of children’s mouths,” knowing that half of households who received the CTC said their credit was going toward food. Or that parents will once again go hungry to ensure their children don’t. It doesn’t matter that over 60 million U.S. children, including 346,000 in West Virginia, will now be pushed further into poverty because a member of Congress doesn’t want to “burden” their own grandchildren.

Although my children are now adults, I remember clearly how being a parent living in poverty is like a juggling act where new, bigger, and heavier objects are constantly added. Just when you think you can manage rent and food, the hours at your minimum wage job are cut. A snowstorm means you need to buy new boots for your child. Your child care provider raises the cost of care. The medicine is not covered by your insurance. The combined weight of anxiety, toxic stress, parental guilt, and societally imposed shame are an ever-constant threat that can make it all come tumbling down at any moment. And now, after six months of feeling some relief through the CTC, parents and caregivers are starting the process all over again because too many members of Congress choose to believe a false narrative rather than the truths that parents are sharing about their own lives.

If I’m tired, I know parents must be exhausted.

You don’t have to be directly affected by the CTC to know the importance of parents being able to sustain and fully care for their families. The CTC relieves the toxic stress, anxiety, and imposed guilt on parents and caregivers, allowing them to be fully present with their children. When children have their needs met, they not only thrive but grow into adults with better educational and economic outcomes, which benefits our communities. So, in reality, the CTC is an investment in everyone’s future, and that is the reason why we should all demand that Congress makes the expansions permanent.