For the first time in generations, we are on the precipice of making serious and long-term progress to reduce our stubbornly high rate of child poverty in the United States.

Historically, the United States has had a significantly higher rate of child poverty than other developed countries because we have continually failed to sufficiently invest in our children. While the establishment of Social Security has permanently reduced poverty for seniors, children have remained the poorest group in America.

This situation is not due to a lack of evidence on what works to reduce child poverty, but rather the lack of political will to act.

The outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020 increased hardship for many families who were already experiencing financial insecurity. The pandemic and its economic fallout disproportionately affected low-income families and families of color, compounding pre-existing racial-economic inequality. In response, Congress passed several aid packages that caused child poverty to decrease in 2020 and continued the trend in 2021, so far nearly cutting child poverty in half in 2021, with an outsize impact for children of color. Taking this assistance into account, including improvements to the Child Tax Credit that account for the majority of this poverty-reducing impact, children are projected to now be the least poor group in the nation in 2021.

While this progress is worth celebrating, we are at great risk of backsliding and letting millions of children experience poverty once again unless we take further action to extend the improvements to the Child Tax Credit beyond 2021. As Congress negotiates the Build Back Better plan, First Focus Campaign for Children and many of our partners in the children’s community continue to fight for a robust package that prioritizes kids and ensures that families with children with the greatest need, regardless of their immigration status, have access to cash assistance through a monthly Child Tax Credit, quality and affordable child care, paid family and medical leave, nutrition assistance, healthcare, and more.

In the immediate, it is important to keep our focus on the passage and implementation of assistance for children in this reconciliation package. But we also can’t lose sight of the fact that these efforts are part of a larger fight to end child poverty in the United States.

Setting a National Target to End Child Poverty

Even if Congress passes a robust package for kids by the end of 2021, the assistance included sadly will not be enough to lift all children out of poverty or to close the significant racial-economic inequities that persist in our country. Child poverty in the United States is a long-term problem in need of a long-term solution.

This is why First Focus on Children established the U.S. Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in 2016 and along with our fellow CPAG members, has long fought for the setting of a national target to address child poverty, inspired by examples in the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand. These other countries illustrate that the only way to ensure that child poverty reduction remains a priority for decision makers is for them to feel accountable and face political pressure if they fail.

In order to inform our strategy and elevate the issue on Capitol Hill and in the public eye, in 2015 we worked with Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) to secure federal funding for the landmark National Academy of Sciences study, A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty, which was published in 2019. This study, written by a committee of the country’s leading experts, confirmed that we already have the evidence on what policies have the biggest poverty-reducing impact for children, including specifically for children of color, and that providing families with flexible cash assistance through a monthly child allowance was the most effective way to combat child poverty, reduce racial-economic inequality, and improve children’s long-term outcomes.

This study has been widely influential, ultimately informing the improvements to the Child Tax Credit in the American Rescue Plan that make up most of its child poverty-reducing impacts. We want to ensure — as do Reps. Roybal-Allard, Lee, and other Congressional champions — that the momentum that resulted from this study and the American Rescue Plan are not lost.

Therefore, we urge Congress to:

a) Establish a Children’s Interagency Coordinating Council in the Office of the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which would help federal agencies work together to improve children’s well-being and promote racial equity by increasing the collection and reporting of data on children’s outcomes, creating or improving cross-cutting initiatives, and identifying gaps and barriers where programs are not reaching vulnerable children and families

Due to the leadership of Reps. Roybal-Allard and Lee, language to establish this council was included in both the House and Senate FY 2022 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Appropriations Subcommittee Reports. We are continuing efforts to ensure that this council is included in a final FY 2022 spending bill.

b) Pass the Child Poverty Reduction Act (S. 643/H.R. 1558), led by Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), which would codify a national target to end child poverty and direct resources to the National Academy of Sciences to analyze and monitor progress toward this goal. A target is essential to support the effective implementation and analysis of the improvements to the Child Tax Credit as well as other child poverty-reducing investments from the American Rescue Plan and the Build Back Better plan currently being negotiated. Over 160 organizations support this legislation, and the Child Poverty Action Group urges organizations and individuals to take action to encourage their Members of Congress to support this bill.

There is more energy and attention behind reducing child poverty in the United States than possibly ever before. We know what works. We have the tools laid out in front of us. Now we need the political will to enact these transformative changes to ensure every child has the resources they need to support their healthy development. I hope you will join First Focus and the U.S. Child Poverty Action Group in working to end child poverty in the United States once and for all.