Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | iHeart RADIO | Podcast Addict | Amazon Music | Deezer App | Player FM | PodChaser

↵ back to the Speaking Of Kids Homepage

Show Notes

In this episode, our hosts Bruce Lesley and Messellech “Selley” Looby chat with poverty experts Megan Curran and Sophie Collyer about the Child Tax Credit. As top researchers at Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy, Collyer and Curran produce groundbreaking work on poverty and the child tax credit. In this episode, they explain why the U.S. needs the Child Tax Credit and help unpack the economic contradictions that place a burden on families. They also discuss the fact that child poverty is a policy decision and explain why lawmakers continually interpret “child-focused” policies around the perceived deservedness of adults. 

Learn more about child poverty and the child tax credit:

Be sure to check out the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University and follow them on twitter

And, please rate and review this podcast and share it with friends and family.

Want to be a voice for kids? Become an Ambassador for Children here. Connect with First Focus Campaign for Children for easy training on how to be a powerful advocate for children. Please consider donating to First Focus on Children to support our work and this podcast here.

Full Transcript

Bruce Lesley 0:03
Messellech, it’s kind of amazing that between the two of us, we have seven kids.

Selley Looby 0:08
That’s a lot. You know, I’ve read somewhere that a baby goes through about 2000 diapers in their first year. So that means we’ve gone through close to 14,000 diapers.

Bruce Lesley 0:19
Yeah, imagine if the government was giving out diapers to help families, that would actually be helpful, right?

Selley Looby 0:25
I could see it now the Department of Health and Human Diapers: DHHD.

Bruce Lesley 0:29
What would be crazy is if you’re a rich family that can afford all those diapers that you would actually get more than maybe for a poor family.

Selley Looby 0:38
Right? And if there’s a family that can’t afford as many diapers, the government will give you fewer diapers.

Bruce Lesley 0:44
Yeah, makes you wonder if this so called government diapers department really understands the idea of assistance.

Selley Looby 0:50
Yeah, that’s the essence of the current Child Tax Credit bill.

Bruce Lesley 1:00
From First Focus on Children, this is Speaking Of Kids, I’m Bruce Lesley.

Selley Looby 1:04
And I’m Messellech Looby. Speaking of Kids is a podcast that puts kids at the center of public policy.

Bruce Lesley 1:17
So diapers aside, that is the inherent absurdity of the Child Tax Credit assistance as it currently stands.

Selley Looby 1:24
Exactly. And, you know, Bruce, how did we get here?

Bruce Lesley 1:27
Well, every other nation in the developed world or among wealthy nations, I guess, has a child allowance. And in the United States, it was recommended in 1991, that we have a child allowance, the National Commission on children made such a recommendation. But unfortunately, in 1997, when the child tax credit was created, the Speaker of the House was Newt Gingrich. And as they were negotiating with President Bill Clinton, they decided to make it such that it was only based upon your income. And so therefore, poor families were actually left behind. Yeah, and so here we are 27 years later, and we’re still trying to get all children to get the same amount of funding. And so that we don’t leave millions of kids behind because of the very fact that their their families make too little income.

Selley Looby 2:17
Exactly, exactly. I mean, we all know that giving birth and creating families is is such a precarious time that I think oftentimes gets not enough attention. You know, I know, in my case with my second after delivering him, you know, he was in the NICU for about three and a half weeks. So we all know that we can make a plan for childbirth, or we can make a plan to save money. But things pivot real time, and you may end up in a situation where, you know, in your case, Bruce, you you had twins. And that’s not something that you always plan for. Right?

Bruce Lesley 2:50
That’s exactly right. And it’s amazing, right, because it’s a wonderful, wonderful experience. But for many, many reasons, as you noted, is you go in and out of the workforce or mom might need to go on bedrest, or we know lots of complications that develop. I mean, we have a crazy, awful maternal and infant mortality rates in this country. But that also means there’s a lot of kids and moms who, you know, have complications. And so you go out of the workforce during pregnancy, you have labor. And then you have this whole postpartum period that there’s also things and as a nation, we don’t have family medical leave, we don’t provide childcare. So there’s no wonder that families have less income at that very time. And yet, they have more expenses, because they now have a baby.

Selley Looby 3:40
Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, between hospital bills, I mean, starting from, you know, even prenatal visits, right? I mean, that can get costly, like you said, if you need to go on bed rest, and then the hospital bills that you get for the actual delivery, postpartum visits for you and your child. You know, for some families, that may mean figuring out transportation, figuring out childcare for their other kids. I mean, there is beauty in this phase, but there is also a level of stress and definitely financial stress that comes with this that oftentimes gets unrecognized and is not always the same. There’s a window where things really get exacerbated within that prenatal to first year of life that really families need more support in that window.

Bruce Lesley 4:26
Yeah, it’s horribly unfortunate that we’re shortchanging children at the very moment where those investments have the biggest bang for their buck. And we know that kids born into and raised in poverty have far worse outcomes in every aspect of their lives, right. They have worse education attainment, they have worse health care. There’s more child hunger and homelessness. We know that for example, in the first year of life, babies are the population most often evicted from housing and It’s also the period of time when they are most likely to go into the child welfare system. So we should be providing more supports, not fewer. And that’s the inherent problem with the way the policy works.

Selley Looby 5:13
Now, you know, Bruce, you’re spot on. And I think the thing that makes me the most frustrated is right now we’re still looking at and fighting for equality, right for all families to get the same amount per child. But really, we haven’t even scratched the surface on equity. Like for a lot of these families, you know, we should really explore what it might look like to really drive that true equity.

Bruce Lesley 5:36
Low income kids need more support, not less, we’re far from doing the right thing for kids.

Selley Looby 5:45
Today, we have two guests who deeply care about children and families getting out of the cycle of poverty and thriving. They help us unpack the reasons why CTC is necessary in our country and the finer points of where contradictions place a burden on families.

Bruce Lesley 6:01
Sophie Collyer is a research director at the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University. She also evaluates anti poverty policies at the national and local level with a particular interest in tax policy, such as the child tax.

Selley Looby 6:17
And Megan Curran is the Director of Policy at the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University. She is particularly interested in the child tax credit and how the structure and impact of child allowance programs and other countries might inform the creation of a national child allowance in the United States.

Bruce Lesley 6:35
Megan is a former First Focus on Children’s staff person and we love her and miss her dearly. So it’s really great to have her on today.

Selley Looby 6:44
A real treat.

Bruce Lesley 6:47
Welcome to Speaking of Kids, Megan and Sophie.

Selley Looby 6:50
Yes, Megan and Sophie, thank you so much, again, for joining us.

Sophie Collyer 6:53
You too. This is great. All right.

Selley Looby 6:55
So let’s get started. Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and social policy does incredible work on policy research, I am very grateful to have both of your beautiful, bright minds working on these important issues, because you could have been doing anything, and you’re working on solving some of the most complex issues of our time. So to try to get a little bit into the meat of our conversation today. Why is it so important to try and lift children out of poverty? Megan, we can start with you, and then go over to Sophie.

Megan Curran 7:28
Yeah, you can come at this from a couple of different angles. And first and foremost, you know, there’s a real moral angle to this, we know that a lot of this is a product of like how we’ve structured our system. But this is a very solvable, like thing. And that like there are policy choices that we can make, that either sort of make it better for families make it easier, or make it a lot harder. But you know, there’s the social cost to and in terms of, you know, living in communities, like you want everyone to be sort of like thriving, it takes a real toll when folks aren’t. And then there’s also like the economic cost tourism, sort of like individuals in terms of like loss potential, but also like what we see in terms of our sort of like country as a whole, like poverty costs, like our country, anywhere from like 800 billion to over $1 trillion, like every single year. That’s not a one time thing. That’s like a regular cost that we’re like seeing all those dollars, like represent like people, you know, who haven’t been able to, like go on and like do the schooling that they wanted to, like have the safe housing that they want to grow up to, like be the thing that they could actually be to like, maybe actually change something else in the world or be a great artist or something like that. You know, it takes a toll on us sort of like individually and collectively. But Sophie and actually some of our other colleagues at Columbia have done like some really, really interesting research that actually, like make some of those connections between like the individual, and like societal costs as well.

Sophie Collyer 8:52
It’s such a good point. And as Megan was saying that child poverty cost the country a lot, what we did was took a look at what the broader social benefits would add up to if there was a more universal child allowance in the United States. And so it took all of the calls of research on the effects of income on things like educational outcomes, health, parents health, employment and adulthood, longevity, all of these different domains, reduce spending on child welfare, reduce spending, and criminal justice all of these different domains and added them up to see what the broader social benefits would be of a fully refundable or universal child allowance in the US and found that the benefits outweigh the direct costs by about eight to one. Right. So that’s and that’s last, you know, benefits that we are kind of leaving behind when we don’t have such policies in effect in this country.

Bruce Lesley 9:44
We’ll definitely put that in the show notes that study and other studies will put a bunch of your studies in the in the show notes are so so important. Sophie, let’s stay with you for a second. The politics of the Child Tax Credit are immense and consequently it does Some good things to reduce child poverty but also fails to really address child poverty. So can you tell us some of the pros and cons of the role the Child Tax Credit plays in reducing child poverty in this country?

Sophie Collyer 10:12
No, it’s a policy that’s had this name child tax credit, but it’s been very different over the course of its lifetime. So the CTC was originally a $400 credit for families with children, there was no way that you could receive any of that if you were low income, it was very much tied to your tax liability. And it did nothing to reduce child poverty, we actually just ran these numbers and found that, you know, the reduction in child poverty associated with the initial credit was I think about 0%. So in 2021, we saw what happens when they do receive it, right. And you see this full expansion of the CDC full refundability and just sharp reductions in child poverty and food insecurity and stress among families. And so we know what the gaps are, we know how to fill them, and what those potential effects could be on child poverty and these other outcomes. But again, it’s more of a policy choice.

Bruce Lesley 11:07
Absolutely. Well, in your your reports, I think you all really coined the term children left behind. So who are they?

Sophie Collyer 11:16
So overall, in 2022 26% of children were left behind medicine, etc. But you see notable disparities by race ethnicity, whereas much more than one in 30, or 40% of black and Latino children are left behind by the CDC, you’re not receiving the full credit. You also see children in rural areas disproportionately ineligible for the full credit. You see children with single parents, more than 60% of children with a single mom who’s a female are left behind by the CTC. So just, again, reinforces some already underlying inequities in terms of a gender pay gap affecting the wages between a single mom and father who might be making more money because of gender pay gap. And that’s just exacerbated then by the CDC because of its tie to our earnings. And, you know, a big one, that negative extreme amount of light on is the fact that children in larger families are disproportionately ineligible for the full CCC. And that’s directly tied to the structure of the credit.

Bruce Lesley 12:19
Megan, yeah, tell us about that. And also, you know, I know you guys have done work on sort of how it’s also disproportionately negatively impacting youngest kids. So you’ll be on that too.

Megan Curran 12:29
Yeah, yeah, no, I think like the name, Child Tax Credit sort of implies anyone who might just hear it for the first time or isn’t super familiar with it, like, Oh, this must be something that’s available to like all or at least most kids in the country. And it must be, you know, sort of like just very specifically like about kids. But in fact, it’s almost like has been like a lot of like the opposite of that, because we had such a, like a complicated formula to like, figure out how much your child tax credit would be. It turned out that in practical terms, it was actually requiring families to earn more money with each additional child in the family to keep maintaining access to the full credit. So what does that mean, like in real terms, like it meant that we already were saying that you basically needed about like, $30,000, if you had one child to get the full Child Tax Credit, when you had a second child in your family, you actually all of a sudden needed about $36,000, in order to just still get the full child tax or not get like more, but just still get the full one per child. If you had a third child, you needed to earn actually over $40,000, just to keep getting the full Child Tax Credit, if you had four children, you actually needed to earn some more like between 46 and $48,000, like getting close up to like $50,000, just to maintain access for the full credit for each child and make sure that like, your third or fourth child didn’t lose out like compared to the to the first or second child in the family. I’m not sure that that was ever really like an intention, like on behalf of Congress. But it’s what happens when you don’t put children like which First Focus talks about this all the time. And I learned so much of this like from being there, like from Bruce, like all of your framing, is what happens when you don’t actually put children at the center of a policy that’s meant to be about kids, they end up losing out even if in ways that you probably never even would have expected because like, of course, I think anyone who has like common sense, would say like, yeah, it doesn’t really track that when you have more children like you automatically have more money like it’s usually. But what we’re actually saying with this child tax credit is like that’s what we’re actually saying. And so it’s like an upside down like structure, and that hurts all kids right. And I think it’s what happens when you’re actually just like tying you know, children’s access to a support that’s meant to be about them to things that like they have no control like children have no control over like what type of job their parents have, even when not their parents may be able to work they might have health issues and I have other caring issues. You might live in a place where there are no jobs, you know, they have no control over how much money their parents are. And they have no control over how many kids are in the family, they have no control over where they live, like all of these things. And so then why are you all of a sudden tying like children’s access to a credit that’s meant to be about them to all of these like changeable family circumstances that kids actually have nothing like to do with. And at the end of the day, like you’re hurting like the kids, because if, say, like, using just the family size example, if you have three children in the family, and the third child is all of a sudden getting less, because the parents didn’t meet that income threshold for that family size. You know, it’s not like the family is going to just like not feed the third kid, like the same amount of food as the other two, it means that every kid in the family like has to make do with less because you have to share the resources like equally among all your family members.

Bruce Lesley 15:53
Yeah, no, absolutely. I think that what’s awesome about what you guys have talked about here is that the focus even on something called the child tax credit is often about the deservingness of adults.

Selley Looby 16:06
Yes, yes. And I love your frame making because your examples highlighted the difference between just having a general child focus, you know, and then centering children, right. And I think sometimes that distinction, while nuance is very important and very critical. Coming up after the break, Megan and Sophie detail the differences between the 2021 Child Tax Credit and the new child tax credit on the Senate floor,

Bruce Lesley 16:37
All that and more ahead, stick around.

Leila Nimatallah 16:41
Making the world a better place for all children can seem like an impossibly huge task. Some of you ever thinking, I’m just one person, what could I possibly do to make a difference? I’m Leila Nimatallah, Vice President of Advocacy and Mobilization at First Focus on Children. And I’m inviting you to join us and become one of our volunteer advocates, whom we call our ambassadors for children. Ambassadors are our most active child advocates who raise critical issues with the US Congress, and with the administration related to child policy and funding decisions, both for kids in the US and worldwide. Like don’t take my word for it, we asked one of our ambassadors to share her experience.

Emmett Bridges 17:32
Hello, my name is Emmett Bridges, also known as Dr. B. And I live in Louisville, Kentucky. The welfare of children and their families is a deep concern for me, and really always has been, especially those from marginalized communities. I care about equity and education, resources and health. And I’m not quite sure what it’s going to take for our elected officials to invest in our children. And I mean fully invest in our children. It really boils down to the haves and have nots. It’s a selfish attitude if an elected official does not consider children as a priority. I say selfish, because if you think about it, other countries with less resources can provide universal preschool as an option for families, then why is it that our country can’t do that as well. I am proud to be an ambassador for First Focus on Children, because they are serious about the work they have done, are doing and will do in the near future. Their efforts are relentless. Think about being an ambassador for them being a voice for the voiceless. I can’t think of anything else more worthy. Thanks for listening. And it’s been my pleasure to talk about what is near and dear to my heart. And that is children. Thank you for your time.

Leila Nimatallah 18:54
So please join us won’t you check out, on how to become a First Focus on Children Ambassador and to link up with our fabulous community of committed child advocates.

Selley Looby 19:22
First Focus on Children is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority and federal policy and budget decisions.

Bruce Lesley 19:32
First Focus on Children moves beyond individual issues to serve a more important role child advocacy. We educate lawmakers and the American public about the issues facing children.

Selley Looby 19:43
To learn more about our work and ways you can become an ambassador go to

Bruce Lesley 19:48
Coming up on our State Of Play. Messellech and I are going to chat about the amendments that are on the Senate floor and how they might create more barriers to eligibility for the Child Tax Credit.

Selley Looby 19:59
What did both of you see, you know, when the American rescue plan act, you know, which was passed in 2021? You know, what did that mean for kids across the country? Sophie, we can start with you.

Sophie Collyer 20:09
I mean, I think that it was a real Yeah, amazing moment. Looking back, I don’t want to say that there was a bit of stun, but like, oh, my gosh, this is actually happened. And I had like, that was a policy that was passed in the United States, where it always seemed like, oh, well, this could this ever happened, do you think this would ever actually make it and once we, you know, learned about the policy and the proposal and what would happen, we immediately tried to understand what its effects would be on both poverty, and other several other indicators of child wellbeing and family well being. So at the time, the center was producing monthly poverty rates were during COVID, we saw such fluctuations in income from month to month, because of different policy changes, you don’t see those fluctuations as much when you’re looking at an annual poverty rate, because all that income is just totaled up and held against a annual poverty threshold. So you don’t see how actually, it can be somewhat destabilizing when you’re getting, you know, $600 a month in unemployment, and then all of a sudden, that’s completely pulled back. So that inspired this development of a monthly more real time poverty measure that could track the effects of different COVID related policies. And, you know, when we heard about the the AARP expansion, immediately started gearing up to understand what its effects would be on the monthly poverty rate, and found that in the first month, it was introduced, you know, close to 4 million children removed above the poverty line, just in that month of introduction, and you saw significant reductions in the monthly child poverty rate. And then, you know, as you also probably expect, with the rollback of the credit, and January of 2022, we saw a sharp increase in child poverty immediately. So that was what we saw in terms of poverty. And then, you know, in September, when the annual poverty rates came out, you saw how that all aggregated up to see this historic reduction in the child poverty rate in 2021, as a result of the credit, and then in 2022, the historic increase in child poverty as it was rolled back,

Megan Curran 22:11
yeah, I think like I would just had, it was a really cool time to be a researcher actually looking at this policy, because it was a transformational, you know, thing that we could see on paper. But then, obviously, like, you know, our colleagues at Columbia, like, very quickly, like tried to get ready to understand the effects. But you actually saw researchers like across the country, almost like mobilizing, like simultaneously to say, like, let’s like track this and like, see what’s actually happening. And they really like met the moment in terms of also trying to, you know, not sort of like let this happened and sort of fade away, but actually developed such a strong evidence base that yes, even though it did expire, this issue has not fallen off the radar, because like, you’ve seen so many policy debates over the years, and so many things. And it’s like, it’s hard to like sometimes get folks to like, keep their focus, like on an issue like after, you know, the certain like, policy window closes or something like that. And I feel like, you know, the fact that we actually have so much rich information on like, what exactly this student, actually that it was a real game changer for families has been so valuable to actually like keeping the drumbeat up for you know, getting some sort of like reinstatement of this, you know, one day full expansion, I do believe like one day it will be back like in its full peace. But even like in terms of the debate, now, we wouldn’t have that if we didn’t have all of that evidence to actually really show like what it did.

Bruce Lesley 23:35
I think one of the things that you guys have really highlighted here is that every aspect of the lives of kids and families were really affected by this. And so just in this array of things that are important to kids from their education, and their health, or their hunger and housing, and you know, just child welfare, engagement, all that stuff. So it really is important, but unfortunately, expired, as you all pointed out. And so now we’re at a moment where Congress is considering something where they would be a step. So we didn’t get all the way back to where we were in 2021. But it is a step. And so that legislation is HR 7020, for the tax relief for American families and workers act on this bill passed the House by an amazing 357 to 70 vote total. And so we were really hopeful that it would move quickly in the Senate, but it has not. And so, you know, this will take some steps. It doesn’t get us back to where we were, but we’re worried that there’ll be attempts to even roll it back some aspects of it. So I know you guys have looked at this legislation. And so can you talk a little bit about how it would improve the Child Tax Credit, the three or four changes it makes and why they’re important to kids.

Megan Curran 24:47
The bill that’s coming up soon. It is a step like back towards you know what we had in 2021. But it is definitely obviously not a full reinstatement of the expansion and it’s one of those things where I think it’s, you know, Tuesday Things can be true at once. And that like, it’s really good, especially taking them in the context of how we’ve expanded the Child Tax Credit incrementally over time, it’s great that the focus in this particular policy change is on the children who have been historically like left out of the full credit, you know, when we’ve made changes to the child tax credit, and in different years, it has not always been, you know, the focus of trying to close that gap. So really commendable piece of the legislation is that it does focus on those children who like deserve to have access to the full credit, it’s also true at the same time, and that it doesn’t reinstate, like the 2021 thing. So it doesn’t, you know, automatically, like, include those kids fully. But that’s not a reason for like action, you know, sort of like not to be taken now. I think what it does, in terms of the practical pieces is, it changes really in a positive way, that child penalty that I actually really liked that phrase versus like, I might use it no like, in that, you know, we were disadvantaging children who had, you know, siblings, basically, once you started to have like, at least a two child family, your family was sort of losing out because you were asked to like, earn more money to like keep access to the credit. So it gets rid of that disadvantaged thing and makes it a much more true like per child benefit, and that we’re not moving the goalposts on family. It’s like every time their family size changes, it does not do a very technical sort of like formula change. But in the practical terms, it means that if you have 1234 children and doesn’t matter, you can still earn the same amount of money to get the full credit for your family. And then over time, it actually adjusts the credit for inflation, which is a hugely important Sophie and a couple colleagues at Columbia have shown that actually, when you don’t pay attention to that type of very technical thing, you’re actually like, you know, the credit gets much less effective over time, because it’s just worth less like in real terms to families. And it also means that like the antipoverty potential really loses out over time, because it’s not able to keep up with actually like the needs that families are continuing to have. And it also has a provision which some has called the lookback provision, which actually just really is again, trying to address the fact that the families who have been historically left out of this credit haven’t met, like whatever sort of like very high like income requirements that we’ve had in different years. But also when you are thinking about real situations of families, sometimes the reason you’re not actually, you know, qualifying with the same amount of earnings is because you’ve had like different disruptions like or changes in your family’s like life. And so what the look back provision is, which has actually been something that’s been a very common policy element that has been used in a bunch of other different tax provisions over times, both for families and for actually like businesses and things because it shows that like, in any given year, like something can happen, that disrupts like your sort of like status quo. And it lets you actually just use like the prior year’s income, if that happened to be higher in if that happens to then enable you to qualify for higher credit. What that means in like real terms. For families, it means like if you had a child, and you’re all of a sudden out of the labor force for part or all of the year, your earnings when you go to file your tax return that you’re going to be lower. But guess what you actually have another like family member who you need to support, which again, is a Child Tax Credit was actually like centering children wouldn’t be a problem. But because we tie everything to income here, and all of a sudden becomes problematic that you lost, like your earnings for the very like, worthy cause, like welcoming and beautiful baby, look, back provision can really help in this situation. Because you can say, actually, the year before, when I was like fully in the labor market, I can actually discount that income and make sure that my new baby like has the child tax credit for their expenses. Because a lot of folks have like, income volatility, like if you’re working like shift work, or you have no control really over the hours that you’re able to have, or maybe something was disrupted in your sector. And you know, or you had to switch from full time to part time because you have caring responsibilities or anything like that. A look back provision in very real terms, like these are the types of situations where it can really help all of these pieces come together. To do a lot of like, this bill is very technical changes, like it doesn’t give you the good headlines that like 2021 did, which is basically like we’re actually now including, like almost all kids in this credit. This, you know, is much more of a sort of behind the scenes, like folks who are in the weeds like we can make these changes to actually include more kids, but it’s still in very real terms, like does make a difference for the families that it would benefit. But we do have to I think like keep our eye on the prize of like, this is moving us towards what we had in 2021. It’s not getting us all the way back there yet, but like we are at least like moving back in the right direction.

Bruce Lesley 29:46
Yeah, absolutely. Well, as you say, it’s like, at least we’re stopping the penalisation of people or penalizing children for the fact that their parents have a baby or there’s a natural disaster or their parents have to do Do caregiving for even them or their, you know, their grandparents, or any of those kinds of things like loss of a job. So it just fundamentally to me, the child, that’s the one thing about the child tax rates really never made sense, it almost penalizes when you have hardship. Like, that’s when you need things the most. And I really encourage people to look at these resources in the show notes will post the reports by the Center on everything from you know, the cost benefit of reducing child poverty to amazing studies on the children left behind, right, because the parents make too little right. So sort of the irony there of of how the policy works, but then also the work you guys did around how once the child tax credit was made, fully refundable, the benefits, and then when it went away, then we you know, saw a spike in child poverty again. So all of that will be in our show notes. And I really encourage people to use those resources. But I’ll turn it over to Sally to ask you a final question.

Selley Looby 31:01
Yeah, you know, again, Megan, and Sophie, thank you so much for the work you do you know, as Megan probably is really familiar, our theory of change really starts with raising awareness and the research you do and the reports you push out are critical. And you know, I’m sure for you especially I know for us it gets frustrating when the research is there. And it’s very obvious what we should do. And Congress policy kind of does a U turn or a pivot that you just kind of have to scratch your head. In those moments. Sometimes we turn to music as like a little pick me up and so are there any you know, albums, songs, artists that you really go to when you’re just having a bad day or you see a headline that makes you go hmm

Bruce Lesley 31:53
A lot these days.

Megan Curran 31:58
Sophie let you go first.

Sophie Collyer 32:00
When I’m like need a bit of a pick me up. I often say to Prince, it’s less about the message, but more just like, get some energy back for me to kind of okay, what can we do now? So I would say Prince uptown would be a song.

Bruce Lesley 32:17
Oh, awesome. Yeah.

Megan Curran 32:22
When I was thinking about this question, it can go in a lot of different directions, because I think I’ve like very random music, like selection if anyone looked at my Spotify, but because you can see like a lot of Irish music and then also a lot of like, late 90s, early 2000s, like, hip hop and all those things. So it’s like, none of them all go together. But sometimes, like if I’ve needed like one song to like, just like, Okay, I need a little energy boost. It’s actually like Tom Petty’s American Girl has like just a really good, like, start to it that I think you can’t like not be like, energized.

Selley Looby 32:55
Oh, these are

Bruce Lesley 32:57
These are awesome adds. Thank you guys. Love it.

Selley Looby 33:02
Thank you guys both so much. We really appreciate your time.

Sophie Collyer 33:06
Thank you for having us.

Megan Curran 33:07
Thanks so much for everything that First Focus always does. I’m very proud alum.

Bruce Lesley 33:10
Thank you. Thank you so much.

Selley Looby 33:19
Okay, Bruce, this is all moving very quickly. Let’s unpack this and help our listeners really understand what’s happening here with this new version of the Child Tax Credit. We all know that this passed the House 357 270, an overwhelming majority. In your opinion, when you look at things shouldn’t this pass rather quickly in the Senate?

Bruce Lesley 33:38
Yeah you would think so in the house had passed by something like an eight to one margin among Democrats and a four to one margin among Republicans that have bipartisan support, and yet, as it moves over to the Senate, and we really are getting into these notions of deservingness of adults, and the conversation is rapidly moving away from what are the needs of children. And you know, we’re pointing out of course, that the child tax credit is about children. It is in the name inherently. And so why why are we moving toward this conversation? We also know that reducing child poverty is really important and the benefits of the bill is that it does help 16 million low income kids to some extent and you know, as we talked earlier, both Sophie and Megan talked about it’s not perfect, it’s far from it doesn’t even get into getting all children a base set amount of money. So it still leaves some poor kids behind. But it does make progress it is it has provided an important step toward improving the way the child tax credit treats low income kids.

Selley Looby 34:49
So you know, we talked a lot about this first year of life and just how stressful that can be for families especially financially. What is the bill do to address this need for families?

Bruce Lesley 35:01
Now, it does a couple of things. I mean, as we both talked about, like we should actually be providing, you know, additional assistance, not less assist in but at the very least, like let’s not penalize families because their income drops. And that’s unfortunately, what happens with the current child tax credit. So what the bill does, it does a couple of things. One is, the bill has this thing called a look back provision. And what it does is say, if your income dropped in a calendar year, you can look back to the prior year where you may not have had a disruption in your income. And you can use that so that your income doesn’t drop, and therefore your child tax credit doesn’t drop. So that would be very beneficial to families who are having kids. But it’s also beneficial to families who live through a natural disaster, or there’s a sickness in the family, someone getting cancer, or you have to stop working to provide caregiving to your kids or your parents, or some other family member. So for a lot of reasons, this is actually a great policy, but it’s particularly speaks to families who are having children, because we know there’s evidence to shows that actually, the income for a woman will drop about on average 40%, you know, during this period of time, so we shouldn’t penalize those families for having kids.

Selley Looby 36:17
Because the issue really is with the bill, and we’re trying to address this, and we highlighted this earlier, if you make less, you will also receive less.

Bruce Lesley 36:27
That’s right. So this bill at least says you should be able to maintain, you know, that level of benefits you’re getting in the prior year. And then the second provision that the bill does that I think is really important. The example I would give is that let’s say there’s a single mom, who makes $100,000 a year and has three kids under current law, she would get $6,000, she would get $2,000 per child. The problem with the child tax credit as is is let’s say, say a single mom, with three kids, it makes $10,000, she would only get $1,125 for the first child, and nothing for the second and third child. And so one of the things the bill does is get rid of the child penalty. So we would say that that family should get at least $2,000 per child. But at least what the bill does is say you should get rid of the penalty and so that you get at least the $1,125 per child. So in that case, the Child Tax Credit benefit to that family would go from $1,125 to $3,375. So still not equity, there’s not so much getting the 6000. But at least it’s much better than under current law. Right?

Selley Looby 37:42
Because we know that that’s really impacting the whole family. Right? It’s not just impacting her third child.

Bruce Lesley 37:50
That’s exactly right. Like, as you said earlier, you don’t just allocate a budget to your first child, and leave the other ones behind. And, and that’s what’s that’s what’s sort of ludicrous about the current child tax credit policy. And thus, it’s one of the good things about this bill is it does get rid of this child penalty. Right.

Selley Looby 38:10
And we know, you know, like we’ve outlined and Megan and Sophie have really done a great job of laying out this isn’t a homerun by any stretch, especially when compared to the advances and the real success that we saw in 2021. But what do you think will happen with this bill in the Senate?

Bruce Lesley 38:32
So you would think it would be a slam dunk? Right, I mean, it passed, you know, by a more than five to one margin overall in the house. And so now it’s coming over to the Senate. And yet, there’s some talk of offering amendments that would really weaken the bill. And so under the House bill, $33 billion, would be going to families from that legislation over the time period 320 25. So that’s a enormous benefit to families. And so therefore, you know, we believe it’s an important step toward addressing some of these inequities. It’s still like, again, it doesn’t get to where we really want, which is what we had in 2021. But it’s an improvement. Unfortunately, there’s some people in the Senate who are talking about offering amendments and so talked about like, one thing would be to get rid of the look back. And their argument is, is that you know, they talked about work incentives and all this kind of stuff. Well, it’s ludicrous to think that people would quit working because they might get $900 or something. It’s just ridiculous. And yet, that’s what they’re trying to do. And what we would point out is, you again, are harming people most in need, you’re harming people. The look back helps families having babies it helps families dealing with, you know, a healthcare disaster or crisis like cancer. It helps families living through a natural disaster caregiving all kinds of reasons why people have fluctuations in their income that they could get lose their job for whatever reason. So this has really been Official to them and most importantly, it’s it’s to the child like that’s where we really want the focus to be. And so anyway, there’s a suggestion that they want to get rid of the lookback provision, and the Heritage Foundation and others have written a paper encouraging that that. And we would oppose that. Another thing would be to get rid of the language that eliminates the child penalty. So for some reason, it appears that there’s some senators that really liked the idea of a child penalty, we of course, do not. So they’re talking about striking that. And then there’s also a suggestion that someone might offer an amendment to impose a citizenship requirement. So right now, there already is for children, you have to have a social security number as a child to get the child tax credit. This would say that even if you have an immigrant in your household, you cannot get the child tax credit. So we know that one quarter of the nation’s children live in immigrant households. And if you eliminate that, you’re going to create a massive disparities between US citizen children, and that is unfair and uncalled for and harmful to kids. So you’re penalizing children because one of their family members is an immigrant that’s unfair, and uncalled for. It’s actually really dominant long term too, because these kids are our future. And so why would you shortchange them, and ensure that they’re going to be less productive citizens like that? This makes no sense at all.

Selley Looby 41:26
That’s what I was about to say actually, that, you know, yes, it’s hurting the children, but it’s also hurting the country long term.

Bruce Lesley 41:32
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. We really should be valuing all our children. And yet, here we are in the Child Tax Credit, and we’re about to have a debate where people because of their imposition of deservingness standards and, and perceptions on adults are going to create massive disparities among children and valuing some children more than other children and, and we just, you know, as an organization, we just think that that’s unacceptable.

This is speaking of kids, thanks for listening. I’m Bruce Lesley.

Selley Looby 42:09
And I’m Messellech Looby, special thanks to our guests Megan Curran and Sophie Collyer.

Bruce Lesley 42:14
Speaking of Kids as a podcast by First Focus on Children.

Selley Looby 42:18
Elizabeth Windom is the Supervising Producer and Julia Windom is the Associate Producer.

Bruce Lesley 42:23
Leila Nimatallah is the Advocacy and Mobilization Producer and the Senior Producer is J. Woodward.

Selley Looby 42:29
Our theme music is don’t look twice by Sam Barsh.

Bruce Lesley 42:32
For more information about this week’s episode go to You can find all of our links in the show notes.

Selley Looby 42:39
If you have any thoughts, questions or interest in becoming a First Focus on Children Ambassador email us at speaking of kids at

Bruce Lesley 42:47
And please follow rate and review on Apple podcast Spotify or YouTube that would be very helpful to us.

Selley Looby 42:54
Speaking of Kids is produced by Windhaven Productions and Bluejay Atlantic.

Transcribed by