LLast fall, Krista Greene missed a week of work after her sons were exposed to Covid and were unable to return to school. Greene, who operates a tutoring center and yoga studio in Charleston, West Virginia, is not granted any paid time off. Normally, she would have worried about this loss of income. But the Greene family’s budget had recently become a bit more flexible, thanks to monthly child tax credit payments that began in July 2021.
“The first thing I said to my husband was, ‘The Biden dollars are coming in next week, so I won’t miss any bills,’” Greene said.
It was nice as long as it lasted.
Families likely received their last monthly payments in December after Congress failed to pass the Build Back Better Act. The legislation, a cornerstone of the Biden administration’s domestic policy, would have made the payments permanent. But one Democrat stood in the way – Greene’s Senator Joe Manchin.
A week before Christmas, Manchin appeared on Fox & Friends and announced that he would not vote for the Build Back Better Act, effectively pushing Biden’s plans into a Senate split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.
“I always said, ‘If I can’t go home and explain it, I can’t vote for it,'” Manchin said in a press release after the television appearance. “Despite my best efforts, I cannot explain the vast Build Back Better Act in West Virginia and I cannot vote to move this mammoth bill forward.”
The announcement came after months of negotiations between Manchin and the White House, some of which concerned the child tax credit. Manchin wanted to limit credit to families earn $ 60,000 or less per year. He also said he would not support a permanent credit unless it includes a work requirement.
The Child Tax Credit was one of Biden’s many proposals that were surprisingly popular in the deeply Republican state of West Virginia, not least because Manchin voters benefited more than most.
Ninety-three percent of West Virginia’s children – about 346,000 in total – were eligible for credit payments. According to the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy (WVCBP), that additional $ 250 to $ 300 per child per month pushed about 50,000 of these children above the poverty line.
Now that the credits are gone, so will these advances. The timing couldn’t be worse. Like the rest of the country, West Virginia is experiencing a surge in inflation unprecedented in decades, a surge that disproportionately affects the poor.
“The checks don’t come in,” said WVCBP Executive Director Kelly Allen. “Fifty thousand West Virginia children are at risk of falling into extreme poverty. “
Queentia Ellis is a single mother with three daughters aged seven, three and two. For a while, she supported her family with a minimum wage job, but found that she was still short. “You can’t look after three kids with a minimum wage job,” Ellis said.
She decided to go to college. Monthly child tax credit payments, along with child support and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), have kept her home with her children while attending school full time.
“It helped me pay my bills and buy things for my kids that they needed,” said Ellis, who hopes to one day start his own business.
After the monthly payments are over, Ellis said she will likely have to return to a minimum wage job, which means it will take longer to graduate from college. She will also need to find daycare for her daughters, which will cost up to $ 100 per month for each child, even with the help of a state child care assistance program.
“It has an impact on income, especially if you work minimum hourly wage,” Ellis said. “I have to figure out what and how I’m going to go about making things possible. But where there is a will, there is a way.
After announcing that he would not be supporting the Build Back Better Act, reports revealed that Manchin feared parents would use the child tax credit to buy drugs.
But evidence shows that in West Virginia and across the country, the money was spent on necessities – 91% of low-income families used the money for basic needs like rent, groceries. , school supplies and medicines, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of US census data.
“Families know what they need. In some cases, it’s putting food on the tables. In some cases, it’s paying rent. In some cases, this allows mom to stay home for a few months or pay for child care because mom has to go to work, ”said Allen of the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy.
Hunter Starks is a single parent with a four year old daughter. They previously worked as a social worker, while also working part-time as a political organizer, often logging more than 50 hours per week.
But things have changed in 2021.
“I have been working since I was 15, usually multiple jobs. And I’ve never had a hard time finding work like I did this year, ”they said.
Starks struggled to find a job as they could only take jobs that had hours that matched their child’s daycare hours.
“Serving and fast food jobs don’t need people during those hours,” they said.
Starks said the $ 300 child tax credit payments were “the difference between getting through or not.”
“And I still had to ask a few people for help,” Starks said.
Starks said the January budget would be tight without the tax credit payment, “but it’s summer greenhouse”.
They will soon be starting a new full-time job as a paralegal, in addition to their part-time organizational work. While it will help their bank account, Starks said it will mean less time with their daughter.
“I kind of hate that I’m going to be taking over multiple jobs and spending less time with my daughter,” they said. “Even though I had financial difficulties, I enjoyed spending time with her.”
As Manchin balked at the price of the child tax credit – around $ 100 billion a year – the credits were pumped out $ 470 million in West Virginia between July and December 2021 alone. Allen said the money was likely immediately reinvested in the state’s economy, as low- and middle-income families typically spend tax refunds as soon as they receive them.
Yoga studio director Krista Greene said that was why it was so important that payments be made monthly instead of once a year at tax time.
“It has become part of your monthly income,” she said. “If a hospital bill comes in, I can’t say, ‘Can you wait four or five months until I get my income tax?’ “
Allen also said the money will also have long-term positive effects on the state’s economy. Living in poverty has a deleterious impact on the health, education and future income of children.
“If the kids are lifted out of poverty and have access to greater economic security, it pays off in the long run,” Allen said.
Manchin’s office declined the Guardian’s request for comment.