An Expanded Child Tax Credit Can Help Combat Hunger and Homelessness

November 18, 2022
by David Plasterer, Senior Associate, US Poverty Policy

This week marks National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. The significance of this week can’t be understated — millions of people struggle to make ends meet, afford rent, food, and other necessities, and many are experiencing or may soon experience homelessness. For years, RESULTS volunteers have advocated for important federal anti-poverty policies that have been critical to addressing hunger and homelessness. There are many ways we can address the hunger and homelessness crises in America, as some of you already do through RESULTS or through volunteering or working at shelters and food banks. You also helped Food Research and Action Center reach over 500 signatories on this letter sent to Congressional leadership urging that the CTC be expanded to combat hunger. And before the year ends, there is yet another action you can take with RESULTS to help lift children and families out of poverty: push Congress to expand the Child Tax Credit (CTC).

When Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, it expanded the CTC, made it fully refundable, and provided it to families regardless of their ability to earn income. One prominent feature of this expansion is the ability of families to get the credit monthly, tracking how most households pay their rent and other bills. Since then, there have been many studies highlighting the positive impacts of the expanded CTC on reducing hunger and homelessness and lifting people out of poverty. Here are just a few:

It is not just researchers and policy organizations taking notice either. Many RESULTS volunteers have shared the powerful impact of the CTC in local media and in briefings for policymakers. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have made expanding the child tax credit one of their primary policy objectives such as Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Michael Bennett (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ)Mitt Romney (R-UT), and Marco Rubio (R-FL). While there is plenty of disagreement between these Senators on what an expanded Child Tax Credit should look like, it is encouraging that they are all interested in using CTC expansion to provide critical support for food and housing to families. 

While signs of bipartisan expansion of the CTC are encouraging to see, there remain important differences in their approaches that affect how the CTC eases hunger and homelessness. The biggest difference pertains to eligibility. Current policy only provides benefits to families if they reach certain income thresholds while the 2021 expanded CTC was available to all children, regardless of parental income. Income requirements decrease the CTC’s ability to combat hunger and homelessness because those who need the support the greatest are left out. An estimated 19 million children do not receive full CTC benefits because of income requirements.  

There are a variety of reasons why families may earn little to no income such as being a mother recovering from giving birth, due to disability, or due to being currently enrolled in school, or due to grandparents with limited income taking on the primary responsibility for caring for their grandchildren. These are the families most at-risk for food insecurity or homelessness that need more support. For instance, grandparent-headed households experience food insecurity at 2 times the national rate. Yet many grandparent-headed households do not generate enough income to be eligible for CTC benefits. Additionally, 670,000 veterans are not eligible for the full CTC benefit due to not having enough income – often because of injuries suffered during their service to our country. Receiving the full CTC benefit would be a lifeline to the  11 percent of veterans between the ages of 18-64 experiencing food insecurity – a rate that is 7.4 percent higher than non-veterans in the same age group. 

With rent inflation nearing 7 percent and food inflation close to 13 percent, reinstating the child tax credit monthly payments should be the first thing policymakers consider to help families cope with rise in costs of necessities. This is particularly true when you consider what has happened since monthly payments stopped – 66 percent of families who received CTC payments say they no struggle to buy food and 40 percent struggle with rent. Some politicians may say that providing support to struggling families through the child tax credit is inflationary. But that is untrue. Nearly 54 percent of inflation is due to historically high corporate profits

Congress is currently considering giving large corporations even more tax breaks, who are already earning historically high profits to the detriment of families and households experiencing housing instability and food insecurity. It would be tragic for these corporate tax breaks to come at the expense of families struggling to afford staying in their homes, putting food on the table, and paying their bills. Congress must prioritize expanding the child tax credit in any end-of-year tax legislation over another handout for large corporations. As we close out Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, we can raise our voices to help families meet their basic needs such as housing and access to food by telling your member of Congress today, no corporate tax breaks without the CTC.

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