So Much More Than A Check: Our Report On The Fight For An Expanded Child Tax Credit

03. 08. 2023

How we got here matters. And how well we learn the lessons of this battle will determine how quickly we move into the next phase of the fight.

For six months while the expanded Child Tax Credit was in effect, millions of families with children received a regular monthly payment that offered them stability and the freedom to make choices. One mom we talked to said she planned to spend her first check on getting backpacks for her kids. Other parents were able to buy healthy groceries, pay bills, pursue job training, and spend less time at work and more with their families. The cumulative effect was stunning, reducing poverty and food insecurity, while boosting entrepreneurship and career advancement, and decreasing stress and allowing families to thrive.

All these benefits have been lost since Congress allowed the expanded CTC to expire, and millions of families now face a gaping hole in their budgets each month. But the fight for the expanded CTC is far from over. 

Today, Economic Security Project released a comprehensive report on the fight for the CTC, explaining the lessons learned so far, and setting out the course going forward.

How we got here matters. And how well we learn the lessons of this battle will determine how quickly we move into the next phase of the fight. Among the findings of our report:

  1. Cash is winnable. Monthly payments work. Regular cash infusions have now been proven to reduce poverty and promote a host of beneficial effects for both families and the economy at large. The popularity of the expanded CTC and other cash programs among recipients and non-recipients alike has established cash as a sensible, highly effective policy choice. 
  1. Go big and take credit. You gotta do both. The government gets credit when programs are direct, visible, and regular, so people can connect the outcomes to the policy. Barnstorming and outreach have the power to cement the success of a program like the expanded CTC in the public’s mind; while their absence allows successful policies to fall by the wayside. Outreach and marketing funding should be baked into legislation at the outset. When the public both sees a policy’s dramatic positive effects, and can connect those effects to the policy behind them, then policymakers reap credit and political capital.  
  1. This fight is very much a long game. The six month duration of the program was not long enough for families to trust that the payments would continue and to form a strong constituency behind them. To build such a constituency going forward, we need to reach out to new allies, and refine our messaging so that people of diverse backgrounds and political identities can understand the value of the CTC from their own perspectives. 

It’s important to digest these lessons quickly, because communities aren’t waiting to take action. Over 20 states around the country, including Montana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and Utah, have proposed state level child tax credits or expansions of existing credits. The momentum in states across the ideological spectrum demonstrates the deep popularity of cash, and the urgency of the need. We need to take inspiration from these states, and capitalize on their momentum by refining our strategy and continuing the push for a permanent federal policy. 

We couldn’t have gotten this far without the collaboration of a broad coalition of activists and organizations, many of whom are already pivoting to the next steps in this fight. We are grateful to be marching down this road with them. We also look forward to welcoming new allies into an even broader coalition as we push to make an expanded CTC a permanent reality. Millions of families across the country deserve nothing less.