Millions of families who received a monthly payment from the IRS through the expanded child tax credit are facing their first month since July without cash from the federal program, even as inflation soars to the highest level in a generation.
Democrats temporarily expanded the child tax credit in early 2021 as part of a sweeping coronavirus relief package, but it expired at the end of 2021. Under the expansion, low- and middle-income parents could receive up to $3,000 for every child ages 6 to 17 and $3,600 for every child under age 6. The payments were income-based and began to phase out for individuals earning more than $75,000 and married couples earning more than $150,000.
The first half was delivered in monthly payments from July to December with $300 for children under the age of six and $250 for those ages 6 to 17, but the last check was mailed out last month. The second half will be delivered as a lump sum when families file their 2021 tax returns in the spring. The IRS said that 36 million families received the payments each month, or about 60 million children.
Without the enhanced tax credit, an estimated 10 million children are at risk of falling below the poverty line, according to an analysis from the progressive think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The expiration of the child tax credit could hurt Democrats' odds ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, as the lawmakers viewed the more generous version of the child tax credit as a centerpiece of their campaign platform.
Although President Biden and most congressional Democrats hoped to extend the boosted program for at least another year with the passage of the $1.7 trillion Build Back Better plan, momentum for the massive social spending and climate bill crumbled after moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., abruptly withdrew his support last month, citing concerns over inflation and the growing federal debt.
"I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can't. I tried everything humanly possible. I can't get there," Manchin said during an interview on "Fox News Sunday" in December. "This is a 'no' on this legislation."
More than 300,000 West Virginia children benefited from the expanded credit last month, according to IRS data.
During negotiations on the spending bill, Manchin insisted the child tax credit program needs to have work requirements as well as means-testing so that anyone earning more than $200,000 is not eligible for the money. He also expressed concerns that the money could trigger a workforce exodus.
A Census Bureau survey of spending patterns among recipients in September and October shows that nearly one-third used the money to pay for school expenses, while about one-quarter of families with young children used the monthly payment to help cover child care. Another 40% said they put the money toward paying off debt.