By Jim Holland
A Child Tax Credit increase is the brightest line item of President Biden’s legislative package that is to be enacted under the Budget Reconciliation rule.
The Child Tax Credit is sometimes presented as a negative income tax. The IRS does the payments; so that understanding is OK.
But, I see it differently. Looking past the nuts and bolts of payments, I see a national fringe benefit. A benefit of being born in the USA. It is like that fringe benefit of a good job, subsidized group health insurance. Every worker gets the same health insurance coverage.
Fringe benefits are a taste of socialism imbedded in the free enterprise system. All youngsters (through their parents) get the Child Tax Credit. Public education is a similar national fringe benefit.
Another government giveaway program? Yes, it is. It is spending without a specified deliverable. Looks like a free gift at first glance.
Supporters say it is an investment. The dollars are invested in a child’s well-being. And there is a payback. That child has a job to do — to grow up to be a useful adult citizen; an asset to the nation; to make a positive contribution to the commonwealth.
Many would probably do that anyway, but this “free gift” makes the desired outcome more likely because some youngsters would not thrive without the investment. It is like a health insurance policy in that it most directly benefits that who need it most. While underwriting the rest.
Here is how we came the realize a national need to invest in children. One-third of the young men called to be soldiers in World War I were turned down from service due to poor nutrition-related problems such as being underweight.
It happened again in World War II. One-ninth of potential draftees were rejected due to apparently nutrition-related diseases, a statistic that boded ill both for American battle-worthiness abroad and for staffing war industries at home.
Those wars inadvertently caused the collection of revealing data on the state of our nation. Proof positive: children, some children, are underfed, and that is a bad thing for all of us.
A federally assisted meal program was established as “a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities.”
Schools were selected to be the service delivery agent. So that was the birth of the National School Lunch Program. President Harry S. Truman signed the National School Lunch Act on June 4, 1946. Though school foodservice began long before 1946, the Act made it sound. And permanent.
At its onset the National School Lunch Program had purposes beyond compassion for children. I point to the purposes listed in the quote from the National School Lunch Act’s preamble. First came national security. Afterward came children’s health, like oh yeah, that, too.
In his defense of in-school breakfasts, a school superintendent told me, “A hungry kiddo won’t learn much that day.” So we have teachers benefiting from food for students at school by reducing an impediment to learning, making their task in life easier. Additionally, a population proficient in the Three R’s is good to have. It is more than compassion.
Supporters of the Child Tax Credit sing from the school food song book, only louder. They say that spending to reduce childhood poverty is also in the national interest, only more so. It is an investment that can improve children’s outcome, because poverty is dangerous for healthy development.
In place of the single statistic of malnutrition that came from the records of military induction physicals, the Child Tax Credit supporters bring to Congressional hearings broader evidence of the negative effects of poverty during sensitive years on human development. In short, they testify that a kid growing up in poverty is behind the 8-ball in life.
How does the Child Tax Credit help? Additional income allows parents to acquire more resources needed for healthy development, such as nutritious meals, enriched home environments and high-quality child care.
Additional income can mitigate negative effects of poverty on parental anxiety that can result in harsh and less supportive parenting. Scientific study of the nervous system development shows growing up in poverty has negative effects. Additional income trumps poverty.
Arguments against the Child Tax Credit are about the same as those of the parent behind in child support payment. He says, “I can’t afford it, and she won’t spend the money on the kid.” Those opposed put it more politely, employing the usual rebuttals to progressive solutions: (1) We can’t afford it. And, (2) It will cause other problems. And, (3) We see what you are trying to do, but the way you are going about it won’t work.
The message they are not saying out loud is: Because there are some sorry parents out there, we are going to leave ever so many girls and boys (not ours) disadvantaged.
It can work. It has worked. The first winners in LBJ’s War on Poverty were millions of widows at a time when most women had not been in the workforce. It was done simply. In a single effective stroke.
Millions of widows were raised from poverty by increasing the minimum Social Security Benefit payment. It is a fringe benefit of being an American that you won’t be left to live in poverty in old age. Additional income trumped poverty.
The dollars added to the widows’ Social Security Benefit was an act of pure compassion. The Child Tax Credit is more than that. It is a twofer. It is compassionate. And, it is an investment. An investment by our nation with a high expectation of a positive payback.
The Child Tax Credit is a national fringe benefit of America for its children. You – little girl, little boy – we won’t leave you to grow up in poverty. Because there is a Child Tax Credit America is even more a land of equal opportunity.
(Jim Holland is Pct. 19 chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party.)