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John Carr | Kim Daniels December 13, 2022
(iStock)(iStock)

What if there were an opportunity for Catholics to unite across political, ideological and ecclesial lines to bring “good news to the poor” (Luke 4) and lift up “the least of these” (Matt 25)? What if Catholics with differing priorities, political affiliations and perspectives could come together to support family life, help the poorest children in our nation, and promote both human life and dignity?

We have that opportunity, but it could be lost if Congress doesn’t act now.

Catholics can and should work together with others to persuade our leaders to pass, in the current lame-duck session of Congress, a strengthened, expanded child tax credit that would provide essential help to children and their families, especially the children who have the greatest needs.

An expanded child tax credit is pro-family, pro-child, pro-life and anti-poverty. It offers an extraordinary opportunity to put the principles of Catholic social teaching into action. By strengthening the credit to include the poorest children and families, our country can invest in human life and dignity, reflect a commitment to family life and a priority for the poor, practice subsidiarity by directly helping families, and demonstrate solidarity with those most in need.

An expanded child tax credit is pro-family, pro-child, pro-life and anti-poverty. It offers an extraordinary opportunity to put the principles of Catholic social teaching into action.

We know how to do this, and we know that doing this will dramatically reduce poverty. In 2021, the American Rescue Plan temporarily expanded the child tax credit to provide monthly payments of up to $300 for children under 6, and $250 for children ages 6 through 17. Most importantly, the expanded credit was fully refundable, which means that no child was excluded from receiving the full child tax credit because their family’s income was too low. (“Refundability” is the Washington word describing a general legislative approach that avoids excluding the poorest families who do not make enough to pay federal taxes.)

This investment kept millions of children out of poverty last year and meant that fewer families faced hunger, according to the Census Bureau and the Columbia Center on Poverty and Social Policy. Unfortunately, a bitterly divided Congress has failed to extend the expanded credit, which has left millions of children worse off.

The expanded credit was fully refundable, which means that no child was excluded from receiving the full child tax credit because their family’s income was too low.

Before this Congress ends, there is an urgent opportunity to enact a generous, inclusive and strengthened child tax credit. We can make a choice not to let last year’s progress slip away.

The child tax credit has a bipartisan history, with strong support from Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Key Democrats have made a fully refundable child tax credit a priority, and Senator Mitt Romney and other Republican senators have also proposed legislation to expand the credit.

Within the Catholic community and beyond, many pro-life and social justice leaders, and both progressive and conservative voices, support an expanded child tax credit. After the Dobbs decision, there have been powerful calls from our bishops and others to unite the Catholic community in providing financial and other help to both children and mothers, helping women to choose life and a stronger future for themselves and their children. Now is the time to act on those words and to turn hopes into concrete help for vulnerable children and families. It is a chance to disprove once again the lie that the Catholic community cares for children more before they are born than afterward, when in fact no institution does more to help vulnerable children and families.

Time is short. The best chance to enact a renewed, effective, inclusive child tax credit is before this Congress ends on Jan. 3. While we will continue to advocate for a bipartisan child tax credit whatever happens in this session, divided government and intense partisanship would make it much more difficult to achieve progress in the new Congress. There are current legislative efforts to fund the government and to extend a number of tax breaks for businesses before they expire. If we can extend tax help to businesses, surely we can help the poorest kids and families in America before the end of this year.

If we can extend tax help to businesses, surely we can help the poorest kids and families in America before the end of this year.

Some legislators oppose making the child tax credit fully refundable, preferring to restrict the credit to those families who have earnings above a certain level or pay federal taxes, but this would exclude kids who need the most help. Under the current existing tax credit about 19 million children under 17 do not receive the full credit because their parents’ incomes are too low, including 45 percent of Black children and up to 39 percent of Latino children.

Some also fear that helping children through a tax credit will discourage parents from working. However, the best evidence does not support this; early research on the expanded child tax credit generally shows no significant decline in parents’ employment. Moreover, caring for young children is essential and dignified work, and it makes no sense to say that it is work to care for other people’s children, but it is not work to care for your own young children.

The U.S. bishops, Catholic Charities USA and many other Catholic voices have long supported the child tax credit and its expansion and refundability as moral priorities. Leading religious, economic justice, pro-family and pro-life voices have called it an urgent national priority. In October a joint letter from the U.S. bishops’ committees on pro-life, family life, migration and domestic justice called for “radical solidarity” with women, children and families and supported an expanded child tax credit, pointing out that “the credit currently excludes too many children in need. Congress can better support families by making the credit fully refundable, without a minimum income threshold, in order to have the biggest impact on the lowest-income families.”

This is not just an abstract policy debate. This is about human lives and human dignity. This is about helping a family buy new shoes and supplies for school in the fall, having gifts under the tree at Christmas, repairing the family car when it breaks down, and buying some new clothes at Easter. It could help families afford decent childcare when they go to work, pay tuition for a good Catholic school or save a little for college.

The Catholic community should unite with many others in an active, urgent and united call for our national leaders to invest in our children, their families and our future. We should challenge our pro-life allies and members of Congress to support concrete help to women, children and families. We should challenge progressive legislators to turn their calls for economic and racial justice into real action to support families in raising kids. We should challenge our national leaders to come together, negotiate their differences and make passage of a strong, inclusive, expanded and effective child tax credit a national priority and legislative imperative before they go home at the end of this year.

This Advent, as we prepare to welcome in our hearts the child of Bethlehem, let us unite as a Catholic community to make life better for the children of our own country. It is the right thing to do. It is a wise thing to do. It is a Catholic thing to do.

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