The Kid Angle: How to win the CTC debate: Spotlight the “child” in the Child Tax Credit

What would you think of lawmakers who sacrifice 16 million American children to boost their political prospects?

“If that’s your decision,” First Focus Campaign for Children tax and budget lead Michelle Dallafior told The 19th this week, “you’re choosing a November election over kids living in poverty.”

And yet, this is really happening. The Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024 (H.R. 7024)which passed the House with a bipartisan vote of 357-70, has been with the Senate for weeks now. In addition to legitimate policy conversations, lawmakers such as Iowa’s Sen. Chuck Grassley oppose expanding the Child Tax Credit — which would lift an estimated 500,000 children out of poverty — because of its potential to reflect well on President Biden. “Passing a tax bill that makes the president look good,” Grassley told reporters earlier this year, “means he could be re-elected.”

But that thinking goes both ways: Not passing the bill makes opponents look bad — very bad. Research has long shown that voters have extraordinary empathy for children. Framing expansion of the Child Tax Credit around its benefit to our nation’s children offers the bill’s supporters a winning strategy. Here are some tips:

  • Hammer home that children are the beneficiaries of the Child Tax Credit: Research shows that voters view children as highly deserving of positive public policy. While adults trigger judgment and questions of “deservingness,” children evoke empathy and action.
    • The American public ranks “children” as #2 in their hierarchy of deservingness, in a recent study, just behind “veterans” and ahead of the “elderly,” “disabled,” and “soldiers.”
    • Researchers found that public support for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) rose as much as 24% when they highlighted the benefits to children.
  • Apply the “Is it good for the children?” test: Applying this simple test would neutralize attempts to distract from what is most important.
    • Is passing the expanded Child Tax Credit “good for the children”? Yes, it is. Is weakening the bill — or letting it fail altogether — “good for the children”? No, it is not.
    • Passing the expanded Child Tax Credit would lift as many as 500,000 children out of poverty and would help 16 million who struggle to get enough food, to stay in their homes, to attend school and to thrive as children should. Inaction would push those children further behind each year.
  • Highlight the return on investment (ROI): Investing in children, as provided for in H.R. 7024, has proven — time and again — that it can reduce child poverty and the drag that poverty exerts on our economy.
    • The National Academy of Sciences estimates that child poverty costs the nation as much as $1.1 trillion a year in short- and long-term social, economic and health-related consequences.
    • Numerous studies have shown that direct investments in low-income children pay for themselves with a high ROI.
    • More than 60% of respondents to a 2022 survey by Lake Research Partners said they were “extremely concerned” about the societal costs of child poverty. Highlighting ROI reminds the public that “investing in kids” benefits the nation as a whole. 
  • Reference the need to treat all children fairly: American voters respond to the issue of fairness and strongly believe that children should not be blamed for their circumstances. Opponents of H.R. 7024 seek changes that are inherently unfair to children. These changes would:
    • Reward wealthy children with greater benefits than low-income children
    • Discriminate against babies and toddlers (see chart below)
    • Penalize children in families that have endured a natural disaster, job loss, the illness or death of a family member, or other setbacks beyond their control.
  • Avoid repeating the opposition’s myths: Attempts to refute the opposition’s disinformation — for instance, around impacts on work, immigration, etc — simply repeat and reinforce that disinformation.
    • Instead, highlight the many positive impacts H.R. 7024 will have on our nation’s children and why we as a nation cannot afford to let it fail. (See “Is it good for the children?” test, concern about poverty, ROI, etc.)

For supporting research and analysis of these messages, please see our new report on Centering Children at the Heart of the Child Tax Credit Debate.