By Kat Menefee, Counsel, Income Security
Congress is currently considering bipartisan legislation to expand the Child Tax Credit (CTC) that would keep half a million children out of poverty by 2025. This expansion would help families pay for food, rent, and other bills. The bill has already been resoundingly approved by the House Ways and Means Committee. But instead of supporting this anti-poverty measure so families can receive assistance this tax season, some congressional Republicans are resorting to racist and sexist arguments to try to tank it.
Some Republicans are claiming the proposed expansion could lead to thousands of parents leaving the workforce. The supposed culprit is a “lookback” provision, which would allow families to use their prior year’s income to calculate their credit. Multiple studies, including those from right-wing sources, have shown that the lookback provision would have little to no impact on the workforce. But that hasn’t stopped these Republicans from arguing that families would only work every other year, since they would be able to qualify for the credit regardless.
Let me repeat that. These Republicans are asserting that parents would forgo an entire year’s worth of employment income to claim a relatively modest tax credit.
To state the obvious, that argument is bulls**t.
History has proven that the opposite is true. Despite similarly overblown concerns voiced by some Republicans about the 2021 expansions to the CTC in the American Rescue Plan Act, the expanded CTC had virtually no impact on employment in 2021. In fact, by helping parents pay for expenses like child care and transportation, the payments helped many families work more, not less.
But for some Republicans, the truth is less important than scaremongering. Policymakers repeating this flawed myth don’t care how income supports like the child tax credit function in actual people’s lives. Instead, by suggesting that families with low incomes would game the system, they are resurrecting old “welfare queen” stereotypes. You know the drill: paint families with low incomes—disproportionately families of color and families headed by women—as lazy, duplicitous, and unworthy of support. That way, they don’t have to admit that our economy relies on the underpaid, undervalued work of women and people of color—and they won’t have to make the systemic changes to correct it.
These arguments don’t reflect the lived experience of families. During the 2021 CTC expansion, families used their payments to pay for food, child care, and rent and mortgage payments and to pay down debt—and women of color were especially likely to use the payments to keep food on the table. An expanded CTC isn’t a substitute for income from working—it helps families make ends meet when they are struggling paycheck to paycheck. As one mother described, the payments gave her the “breathing room” to make the best decisions for her family.
That’s what this new expansion would do as well. The lookback provision Republicans are attacking would specifically help families who might have experienced a job loss, faced health challenges, or are wrestling with caregiving responsibilities. These are bumps in the road that all families will face and their representatives in Congress—Democrat or Republican—should support the CTC as a proven policy solution to help families make ends meet.
We know that women and families need and deserve reliable income supports that allow them to make decisions about their own lives. We can’t let Republicans’ implausible arguments and racist and sexist dog-whistles undermine a CTC proposal that would benefit millions of women and families and lay the groundwork for future improvements.