Congress knows how to slash child poverty. It just needs to do it.

The enhanced child tax credit could help bring hundreds of thousands out of poverty. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

It needs to reinstate the enhanced version of the Child Tax Credit, which expired in January

If you could prevent millions of children from falling back into poverty, would you? Most of us, I imagine, would answer “yes” without hesitation.

But not Congress. For nearly a year, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have dithered as the policy directly responsible for a dramatic decline in poverty last year lapsed. It’s time for Congress to bring back the enhanced Child Tax Credit.

New poverty figures by the U.S. Census Bureau has left no doubt that we can end poverty if we choose to do it. In 2020, the rate of childhood poverty stood at 9.7%. By 2021, it had dropped to just 5.2% — a whopping 46% decline. It was the largest year-to-year decrease ever recorded. In the blink of an eye, 2.1 million children in our nation no longer lived below the poverty line.

The reason for the massive decline in childhood poverty is clear. It is the result of improvements to the Child Tax Credit included in the last federal pandemic relief package that Congress passed in March 2021.

Congress strengthened the Child Tax Credit in several ways. First, it upped the amount of cash families get from the credit. Lawmakers also reworked the credit so that the lowest-income families could receive the full benefit, just like middle-class families can. Finally, Congress made it so that the benefits of the Child Tax Credit arrived in monthly installments, rather in a lump sum after families filed their tax returns, thus helping them better cope with their monthly bills.

These improvements to the Child Tax Credit proved a powerful tonic for the financial ills plaguing families struggling to get by on low wages. Most of the money went to pay for essentials like food, utilities, and rent. The tax credit also helped families cover expenses related to their children’s education, such as school books and supplies, tuition and after-school programs. These uses were particularly evident in the case of Black, Latino, and other families of color.

The one hitch with the plan was that the improvements to the Child Tax Credit were temporary. The changes expired in January of this year. Read more