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Tax Credits: A Crucial Weapon in the Fight Against Child Poverty

| March 22, 2017 |

This was originally posted at Spotlight On Poverty.

If a topic like comprehensive tax reform could ever be the rage in Washington, now would be the moment. President Trump has pledged to deliver “big league” changes to taxes, particularly cutting corporate taxes. Standing room-only sessions on Capitol Hill have debated the previously obscure proposal for a ‘border-adjusted’ tax to boost American jobs.

But at least one crucial group has been left out of these discussions: children in poverty. And that’s a big deal. The tax code has become the primary way our nation boosts the incomes of low-income families.

The Child Tax Credit is worth up to $1,000 per child, and because it is partially refundable, even families who do not owe any taxes can get money back from the government. The Child Tax Credit works in tandem with the Earned Income Tax Credit (which provides a credit of as much as $5,548 to working families with two children). Together these credits for working families lifted 5.1 million children out of poverty in 2014. Families now receive more aid from these tax credits than they receive from welfare or food stamps.

New evidence indicates just how important these family tax credits are to combatting poverty. Rigorous research has found that these relatively modest amounts of cash lead to long-term benefits, starting with lower incidence of low birth weight, and continuing with increasing test scores in elementary and middle school, and higher graduation rates from high school. Part of the impact comes from the ability of tax credits to reduce family stress that can be literally toxic to the vulnerable and fast developing bodies of young children, in addition to allowing families to afford child rearing essentials like child care and diapers.

Tax reform should be a moment to build on the successes of family tax credits in protecting our most important investment in the nation’s future. Towards that end, a recently released report by the The Child Poverty Action Group USA provides an important blueprint for the next generation of family tax policy.

For example, a Young Child Tax Credit would address the sky-high expenses of early childhood including diapers and infant child care (which averages 40 percent of the median income of single mothers). Making all (or a larger share) of the credits refundable would dramatically increase the number of families lifted out of poverty. Increasing the limit on child care expenses (currently $3,000) eligible for the child care and development tax credit would align this credit with the reality of the skyrocketing costs of child care. The federal tax code could be revised to provide incentives for low-income families with children to save for college, or simply for a rainy day.

The beauty of tax credits is that they can win support from conservatives concerned about the tax burden on families and who want to provide additional support to families with stay-at-home parents who don’t benefit from other forms of government support. Recent major tax legislation like the Bush Tax Cuts of 2001 and the Bipartisan Budget Act passed in 2015 included expansions of family tax credits. But, family tax credits could be easily left out this time. Republicans opting to use the simple majority procedure called reconciliation won’t need Democratic votes, and will have less pressure to engage on what is perceived as a Democratic issue.

In fact, tax reform in 2017 could worsen the situation. Pressure to simplify the tax code could result in repealing current deductions and credits to fund a lower across-the-board tax rate. This could reduce the after-tax income of families with children living in poverty. The last major blueprint for tax reform, introduced in 2014 by Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), did just that—reducing the Earned Income Credit for families with more than one child and eliminating the child care and dependent tax credit.

Ivanka Trump has called significant attention to child care. But some of the proposals floated during the presidential campaign – like giving taxpayers the ability to deduct child care income from their taxes –would direct a lion’s share of new money to middle income kids not the poor. And, adding to the anxiety of child advocates, tax reform will be moving forward along with a budget that could include debilitating cuts to health insurance, child care, and energy assistance.

Whatever happens in 2017, family tax credits have more than proven their worth fighting poverty in America. But we still have only scratched the surface as a nation as to what tax policy can do to boost the futures of children at risk. Moving towards the right family tax policy will require sustained engagement by child advocates in the foreign territory of tax debate, a focus on highlighting the dangers of policies that worsen the finances of poor families, and the continued push for strengthening key tax credits in this Congress and beyond.

Andrew Stettner is a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, which is a member of the Child Poverty Action Group.

Children of Immigrants Forced into the Shadows

| March 21, 2017 |

Image Credit: Max Pixel

President Trump’s new immigration enforcement policies have widened the definition of priorities for deportation. Mothers and fathers who are now targeted for deportation through this expanded definition rightfully fear sudden separation from their U.S. born children. This fear drives immigrant children and families away from the normalcy of their daily lives and into the shadows.

There have been many reports of parents seeking help to make alternative arrangements in case their children are suddenly without guardians. According to an article in the L.A. Times parents are “finding trusted people to sign power of attorney papers to ensure their U.S.-born children could continue to thrive in the country if they’re deported.” Although the number of deportations under the Obama Administration was high, there were still protections in place that required Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to work collaboratively with child welfare systems to ensure smoother transition arrangements for families with children. The trauma of losing a parent to deportation has been documented to have severe negative impacts on a child’s well-being.  Read More

Strong Families Make a Strong Nation

| March 16, 2017 |

Today you have the opportunity to invest in the future of our nation by joining forces with a national effort to strengthen America’s families and our nation. We are proud to say that the national Home Visiting Coalition is leading this vitally important effort.

The national Home Visiting Coalition, a group consisting of nearly 50 advocacy and home visiting programs, is thrilled to announce the launching of its website (homevisitingcoalition.com) and campaign to urge Congress to reauthorize and expand the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program. Currently funded at $400 million annually, MIECHV provides funding to 50 states, five territories and the District of Columbia, and numerous Tribes and tribal organizations to expand evidence-based home visiting programs. But, funding for this important program will expire this September without action by Congress to reauthorize it.  Read More

Bill Reintroduction is a Victory for 1.2 Million Homeless Kids

| March 14, 2017 |

In a strong display of bipartisan, bicameral leadership, the Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2017 was reintroduced today by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Congressman Steve Stivers (R-OH) and Congressman Dave Loebsack (D-IA).

This legislation portrays the recognition from both sides of the aisle in Congress that the current strategy in the U.S. to address child and youth homelessness is not working. Child and youth homelessness has been skyrocketing in the U.S. since the recession – over 1.2 million homeless students were identified by the U.S. Department of Education in the 2014-2015 school year, which is a 34 percent increase since the end of the recession in the summer of 2009 and many of these children and unaccompanied youth are excluded from receiving federal homeless assistance.  Read More

Congress Shortchanging States and the Health of Millions of Americans

| March 13, 2017 |

The House of Representatives is moving forward with legislation that would impose 255 separate “per capita caps” upon state Medicaid programs — a fundamental and radical change to the financing of Medicaid — with the goal of slashing billions of dollars out of the program. This would represent a fundamental abdication of the federal government’s shared responsibility with states that it has shared over the 52-year history of the program to provide health coverage to our nation’s low-income children, people with disabilities, and senior citizens.

According to the summary of the legislation, known as the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the newly imposed Medicaid per capita caps “would use each State’s spending in FY2016 as the base year to set targeted spending for each enrollee category (elderly, blind and disabled, children, non-expansion adults, and expansion adults) in FY2019 and subsequent years for that State.”

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From the Mouth of a Babe: A 7-year-old Asks Leaders to Prioritize Kids

| February 23, 2017 |

So often, children have no one to speak on their behalf. It’s one of the biggest reasons why First Focus and First Focus Campaign for Children exist – to give them a voice on issues that impact them so greatly. But last night, one child spoke up on behalf of himself, his family and kids everywhere. Toby, “almost” eight years old, had some poignant feedback for Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) last night at a town hall meeting in Springdale, Arkansas.

The Springdale High School auditorium was packed people who stayed for an extra thirty minutes of questions. Yet Toby’s comments quickly “stole the show” (CNN) becoming one of the most talked about moments of the night, and inspiring the hashtag #Toby4President Read More

Children’s Budget Coalition Applauds Sen. Wyden for Prioritizing Kids

| February 14, 2017 |

The U.S. Senate is slogging through the nomination process of Cabinet-level presidential appointments. Several positions remain unfilled and one position – the Director of the White House Office of Management of Budget (OMB) – is of particular importance to the Children’s Budget Coalition, which is made up of over 50 children focused organizations that strongly support robust funding for programs that impact children’s development and well-being, particularly in the areas of health, education, nutrition, housing and welfare.  Read More

Why #JeannetteBelongsHere

| February 13, 2017 |

Zury, one of Jeannette’s children, was featured in the PSA series This Is My American story.

“[I am] a mother that loves her children so much and that is going to do anything that is needed to be with them always. And also, I want to do everything that is necessary so that no one else has to go through what I’m going through.”
—Jeanette to Boulder Weekly, August 27, 2015

These are the words of Jeanette Vizguerra, mother of four, and vocal immigrant advocate. Vizguerra faces deportation. Her stay of removal expired Feb. 7th and she is required to check-in with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement tomorrow. Unfortunately, this is not a new process for the Vizguerra children who are all too familiar with the fear of losing a parent Read More

The Long Game: Tolerance and Respect for One Another

| February 8, 2017 |

In 2017, the United States of America turned its back on refugees. History will judge us poorly, but that’s no consolation for the children, women, and men fleeing war zones today, thinking America represents safety and freedom. So while the Statue of Liberty boldly declares, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” the U.S. government has abandoned that ideal. In 2017! But this essay is not about Pres. Trump’s executive order, or the extraordinary responses by so many lawyers and other citizens who stood up for the rights of refugees and Muslims. It’s about the more deeply-rooted beliefs that allow such an executive order to come to fruition in the first place.  Read More

Trump’s Executive Actions Pose Serious Threat to Kids

| January 31, 2017 |

Credit: ResoluteSupportMedia / Flickr

This weekend saw a great deal of chaos as authorities attempted to implement President Trump’s recent executive orders that ban entries from seven Muslim majority countries and halted refugee admissions.

In an interview with ABC news anchor John Muir, the President insisted that these actions are necessary to protect the United States from terrorism and violence and that only those individuals who have gone through an “extreme vetting” process will be able to enter.

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