Moms, Kids, and the Makeup of Congress

What matters most to families, moms who have to make things happen, and dads who struggle to provide for their family. This is a rerun from “Annie Asks You” emphasizing our job is not done. The work is unfinished and for a brief moment we came close. We are not done. I hope you enjoy the read.

Moms, Kids, and the Makeup of Congress,” annieasksyou…, August 12, 2022

In this intolerable heat, I’ve been thinking a lot about poor single moms and their children. Lacking air conditioning, where do they go for relief? How do they manage?

Last year, the Federal government gave tangible help to these families and others. One of the most enlightened, potentially most important pieces of the American Rescue Plan was a Child Tax Credit that guaranteed monthly payments of $250 to $300 per child to help low- and middle-income families through the pandemic.

Though opponents of the plan (and you know who they were) contended the money would be frittered away or spent on drugs, that wasn’t what happened.

During the period that the payments were made—July 2021 to December 2021—parents used the funds for food, housing, bill paying, reducing their debt, and childcare.

Remarkably, but not surprisingly, an estimated 4.1 million children were lifted above the poverty line as a result of that legislation, according to the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities.

With that action, the US joined the ranks of the more than 100 countries that routinely pay some form of cash benefit to children and families.

A child tax credit was the fruition of work that some legislators—notably Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Michael Bennett (D-CO)—have been pursuing for years.

They feel, as do I and probably many of you, that in our extraordinarily wealthy nation, lifting children out of poverty is both ethically and economically essential.

Conversely, there’s a large body of literature on the impact of poverty on children’s physical, emotional, and educational development.

The expectation was that Congress would be able to renew the benefit before it lapsed, thereby protecting the families whose lives had been dramatically improved by it. The program’s success during its brief existence was deemed solid evidence of its value.

But the Child Tax Credit was one of several family-oriented provisions in the defeated Build Back Better (BBB) bill, along with caps on child care payments, universal pre-K, and other popular programs.

So it was also not surprising that when the Child Tax Credit ended, the monthly child poverty rate rose—and fast: from 12.1 percent in December 2021 to 17 percent in January 2022, even higher than it had been before the credit began.

That 41 percent increase translates to 3.7 million more children in poverty due to the expiration of the monthly Child Tax Credit payments, reported the Center on Poverty & Social Policy at Columbia University.

Now Congress is poised to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, a socially significant piece of legislation that’s sort of a reined-in replacement for BBB. It passed the Senate and will soon go to the House.

This legislation has lots of great stuff in it for the climate, tax equity, and lower health care costs, and I’m thrilled it will soon be law.

But it doesn’t have all the family-friendly elements that were in BBB. That bill, you may recall, went down because all the Republicans, plus Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, opposed it.

New York Times Opinion writer Jessica Grose recently wrote an essay about the lack of paid parental leave, another safety net provision that many nations provide but the US does not.

Grose wondered whether if there were more moms in Congress, this support might have been part of the Inflation Recovery Act.

She wrote:

“In October, when The Washington Post reported on the ‘last-ditch effort by Democratic women to pressure Manchin and salvage paid family and medical leave,’ it was moms leading that good fight, including [Senator Kirsten] Gillibrand and Senator Patty Murray of Washington.

“Ideally, legislators who aren’t caretakers of young children would still see the profound value of things such as paid leave and child tax credits, which are also essential for the health of the next generation and society in general.”

She cited Pew Research findings that almost half of Americans, including more than 40 percent of Republicans, state they believe the US needs to do more for parents.

In her dreams, Grose wrote, such popular family-friendly proposals 

“would not just be tacked onto enormous budget bills only to be sacrificed in the horse-trading process.”

While I’m grateful that Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) had a “come to [whatever]” moment and decided to support the worthy Inflation Recovery Act, he would have been truly serving his constituents, who are the fifth poorest in the nation, if he had appreciated that they were spending their Child Tax Credits on necessities—and not moving us toward what he’s called an “entitlement society.”

One woman who responded to Manchin’s characterization was Amy Jo Hutchison, whom I wrote about here. Her West Virginia-based organization, “Rattle the Windows,” has been gathering stories from families about how they actually used the Child Tax Credit. They sent this real-life research to Manchin.

Her web site carried this encouragement:

“Click here to tell your story of how this money is helping your family. WE are the difference between what they think the truth about us is and what we know it is.”

Now, if we had a few more Amy Jo Hutchisons in Congress, we might well be able to make the Child Tax Credit and other empowering legislation an immutable part of American life.

And, once again, I stress what we might accomplish if we keep all our current Senators up for reelection, elect two more people-oriented Senators, and retain the House in November.

To me, it’s self-evident that we’ll all benefit if the next generation of kids now in poverty are healthier, more emotionally stable, and better educated.

Are you with me?