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Hoosiers Hopeful After IRS Announces Monthly Child Tax Credit Payments Start July

Eliza Carey & family

Eliza Carey (left) sits with her children. "This (expansion with monthly payments) is gonna make a big difference for a lot of families," she said. (Alex Paul, WTIU/WFIU News)

Life seems to be inching closer to normal every day. The weather’s getting warmer, businesses are hiring and more people are getting vaccinated.

But in the Carey household on Bloomington’s south side, things remain far from normal.

“Hopefully, I'll be able to go (to work) full time soon,” says Eliza Carey from her couch. Her two-year-old daughter Makayla clings to her lap while six-year-old Raelynne sits nearby. The three older kids are upstairs doing schoolwork. “I'm just excited about being able to just get back out there and be above water again.”

Carey was working full-time as a retail manager when the pandemic hit. School went virtual and her kids’ grades started slipping. She knew she had to make a change. 

“I was like, ‘Okay, this is not gonna work.’ Especially with them being home and them needing my attention. So now I'm part-time with IU Health,” she said. “As a parent you always want your kids to be better than you, and that's what I want for them.”

It’s been a tradeoff. She can help with things like schoolwork but it’s harder to make ends meet working fewer hours. Jessica Fraser, director of the Indiana Institute for Working Families, says she’s seen the same situation in countless Hoosier households.

“Low to moderate income families are still having those (economic) impacts (from the pandemic),” Fraser said. “In some ways, it's even worse because service sector workers were so impacted by this particular downturn.”

More than 800,000 Hoosiers live in poverty, according to 2019 Census Bureau estimates. More than a quarter of them are children.

For an average family of four, poverty is defined as an annual income of less than $26,500.

Those numbers are pre-pandemic, though. Many Hoosiers including Carey are worse off now than before. And the impact on children could be long-lasting.

“There's lots of research out there that when families live in poverty, it has detrimental effects on children,” Fraser said. “They are more likely to live in poverty in their adulthood.”

What Is The Child Tax Credit Expansion?

As part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan,” the annual child tax credit (CTC) is expanded for 2021. For the first time, it will include direct payments to families, which, the IRS said Tuesday, will begin in July.

Some experts project that, in addition to helping families recover financially from the pandemic, the expanded credit could cut child poverty in half.

The expansion will increase the CTC from $2,000 to $3,600 per child under 6, and $3,000 for kids up to 17. That means monthly payments of $250 or $300 per child per month for the rest of the year. The other half will be paid out with regular tax returns.

Brad Heim worked in the Office of Tax Analysis in the U.S. Treasury Department from 2006-2010. He’s now the executive associate dean of IU’s O’Neil School of Public & Environmental Affairs and says if the economic expansion continues, these direct payments to households could act as a building block for a new way of supporting families.

“It's structured very similarly to kind of a ‘guaranteed basic income’ idea,” he said. “Often, guaranteed basic incomes apply to everyone. This is kind of a guaranteed basic income for kids in particular.”

The expansion also removes the earnings floor for the credit and makes it fully refundable, meaning more families will benefit. Originally, one could only get the credit if they paid a certain amount in taxes, which led to many of the poorest families missing out. In 2020, just 15 percent of CTC benefits went to families making less than $30,000.

Child Tax Credit
Over 40 percent of 2020 CTC benefits went to households making over $100,000. (Courtesy: Brookings Institution)

The expansion phases out for single earners making more than $75,000, heads of household making more than $112,500 a year and married couples making more than $150,000. Those making more will be eligible for the credit at its previous levels.

A report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that 1.4 million Hoosier children will benefit from the expansion in some way, with 80,000 kids being lifted above the poverty line.

“We’re looking at an additional $1.25 billion to $1.5 billion of tax benefits that Hoosiers will get out of this,” Heim said. “So, it’s a substantial amount of money by which Indiana families will benefit.”

Currently, most of the money Carey makes goes toward her rent. SNAP benefits help with groceries. She says the expanded credit and monthly payments will go a long way for people living paycheck to paycheck.

“That’s going to help me to be able to pay bills on time and to be able to save some money,” Carey said. “I've never been, you know, staying above water. I've never been able to do that – save. So I'm really excited about that.”

The impacts of lifting children out of poverty are hard to understate: they’re more likely to graduate high school and go to college, and less likely to be involved in criminal activity, per the American Psychological Association. They tend to live longer and healthier lives.

Will It Stick Around?

Making the CTC expansion permanent would not be cheap, according to Heim.

“You have to collect taxes at some point,” he said. “And if you're writing off $3,000 per kid for huge numbers of families, I mean, that's – for a lot of families, that's the entire tax bill, and then you're sending money out the door.’

Prominent Democrats, including the president, have said they’d like to see the expansion continue as part of broader antipoverty efforts. A few Republicans, including Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) have pitched similar programs but say the current iteration of the credit will encourage government dependence and lead to inflation.

“The Child Tax Credit plays a vital role in helping working families thrive, which is why Republicans doubled the credit in 2017 as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN-2) wrote in an email. “However, I’m concerned that Democrats’ plan to transform the Child Tax Credit into a permanent monthly payment will make it vulnerable to waste and abuse and present serious administrative challenges for the IRS.”

Have a story idea? Find Mitch on Twitter @ByMitchLegan or email him at mitlegan@iu.edu.

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