by Julie Lowell, Public Assets Institute
The pandemic has demanded quick responses from government over the past 18 months, from protecting public health to making sure Vermonters had food, shelter, and financial security during an unprecedented economic rollercoaster.
On the whole, our government has gotten a lot of things right: access to testing and treatment for COVID-19, a massive vaccine rollout in a matter of weeks, and financial support to Vermonters who needed it. Most of the funding came from the feds, but the Vermont Legislature and the governor deserve a lot of credit for their part in the pandemic response.
Now as more and more Vermonters are vaccinated and the economy has started to stabilize, we’re starting to see divides re-emerge.
Unemployed Vermonters lost their supplemental benefits last month, regardless of whether they were able to go back to work.
Most restaurants have likely run out of aid after a tumultuous year and a half that left the sector much smaller. And families with kids under 12 are still holding their breath, agonizing over what’s safe for their kids, even as they continue to face quarantines and temporary school or child care closures, not to mention a flu and cold season that requires overreacting to a child’s every sniffle.
But one way aid continues to flow to Vermont families is through the expansion of the federal Child Tax Credit. Changes to the credit make it easier for families to make ends meet amidst the uncertainty of the pandemic, and reduce inequity, providing needed relief for families who weren’t eligible for the full credit in the past.
For 2021 only, Congress expanded the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 to $3,000 per child ($3,600 for children under 6), extended it to include 17-year-olds, and are paying half of it in six monthly payments before the end of the year and the other half when families file their 2021 taxes next spring.
Previously families received the credit only when they filed their taxes.
An estimated 104,000 Vermont children under 18 would benefit from making the expansion permanent. Part of the reason is that the credit is now fully refundable, meaning that families with low or no earnings can receive the full value of the credit. The increased credit is especially impactful for Black families, who face the highest rates of family poverty in Vermont.
Eligible families who didn’t file taxes in 2019 or 2020 must apply to get the credit. The federal Department of the Treasury estimates this could involve up to 3,500 Vermont children. Families have until November 15th, 2021 to sign up for the benefit with the IRS, or through GetCTC.org, a mobile-friendly, bilingual sign-up tool.
But like so many of the challenges we’ve faced during the pandemic, pulling children out of poverty is not a temporary problem. Extending the expanded Child Tax Credit beyond 2021, which is being debated in Congress now as part of the “Build Back Better” legislation, is an important policy tool to support children who were struggling long before the pandemic. It would be foolish, to say the least, to let these children fall back into poverty in 2022.
Source: Montpelier 10.19.2021. Copyright © 2021 Public Assets Institute, All rights reserved. www.publicassets.org