(RNS) — As a child, I loved the story of Jesus welcoming children to come to him when adults tried to push them away (Matthew 19:13-15). We learned that God holds a special place for children and loves us all equally. As a Quaker, I believe in the sanctity of all our children and that we adults have a special responsibility to love and care for them.
As a parent, I’m relieved our children are getting back to their classrooms. While we do not yet fully know the pandemic’s impacts on them, we know it damaged their learning and development, traumatized many children left without parents, grandparents and other caretakers, and added hardships to many families. We learned hard lessons about the inequalities that exist for many of our country’s children, and we know we need to do more to care for all of them equally.
When the full history of the COVID-19 pandemic is written, there will be much to say about what Congress and the administration did right and wrong to help our children — God’s children — throughout this crisis. But we do know that one pandemic policy, the extension of the Child Tax Credit (CTC), was a massive success.
The CTC helped lift millions of children out of poverty and allowed families to provide for their basic needs. It helped reduce the poverty gap for Black, Latino and Indigenous children at a time when economic injustice became glaringly visible. All the research shows this policy worked, providing direct support to children and families most in need.
Unfortunately, after allowing the CTC to expire last December, Congress now seems intent on letting that success disappear. This would be a disaster for our country’s poorest families and a failure in our responsibility to care for all God’s children.
According to recent government figures, some 5.3 million people were kept out of poverty during the height of the pandemic as a direct result of the Child Tax Credit. This helped reduce childhood poverty to an all-time low. Overall, poverty rates also reached record lows, with the Affordable Care Act coverage nearing record highs. The impact was so strong that only 1 in 10 Black children lived in families below the poverty line in 2021. That figure was 1 in 4 as recently as 2018.
Nationwide, the childhood poverty rate stood at 28% in 1993. By 2019, that figure had been squeezed to 11%. That reduction is not random or coincidental. It was largely due to tax benefits (the Earned Income Tax Credit and the CTC) designed to help low-income people. They succeeded beyond expectations and can continue to work as long as they are allowed to.
New numbers from the Census Bureau and the Department of Agriculture also show how states ranked in poverty and hunger in 2021. Four states (Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and West Virginia) appeared in the top five of both. They have languished there for years, though their poverty and hunger rates have begun to recede. These rates were also narrowing nationwide. Finally, children were regularly eating healthy meals.
But Congress let the CTC expire, and now millions of children and their families are paying the price by falling back into poverty.
The good news is Congress still has a chance to right this wrong before 2022 is over. Congress is being lobbied by businesses to delay a corporate tax increase. Our legislators should not consider any business tax breaks without also expanding the Child Tax Credit. Right now, we have a tax code that benefits the extremely wealthy while treating as a burden those who struggle daily to afford food and housing. Congress should prioritize our nation’s children, not corporate interests, and expand the CTC, especially for low-income families.
Quakers seek a society with equity and justice for all, where every individual’s potential can be fulfilled. This begins with ensuring all God’s children have their basic needs met and do not have to struggle with poverty. No parent or caregiver should have to choose between paying for school supplies or food for their kids.
If members of Congress want to show they support our nation’s children and families this election year, they should commit to expanding the CTC before the end of the year. The Child Tax Credit is not just a good investment in our country’s future; it is a way of caring for God’s children.
(Bridget Moix is the general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation and leads two other Quaker organizations, Friends Place on Capitol Hill and the FCNL Education Fund. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)