US child poverty doubled in 2022, thanks to Joe Manchin. We must reverse course | Katrina Vanden Heuvel – The Guardian

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Legislators are fleeing Washington, DC and heading home for the holidays. They leave behind a dysfunctional Congress with a rookie Speaker, brutal wars ongoing overseas, and a country with 11 million children living in poverty.

Yes, after a brief reprieve, child poverty is once again on the rise in the United States. But Congress can put a stop to that. As members of both houses, and both parties, work together on an end-of-year tax deal, they can re-implement a simple, wildly popular measure that has already proven to dramatically reduce child poverty: the expanded Child Tax Credit.

As Nelson Mandela said, “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the action of human beings.” Child poverty is not an individual choice, it is a collective choice—and just as we choose to perpetuate it, we can choose to abolish it. After all, just a few years ago, Congress chose to do something about it, and it’s time to make that choice again—this time for good.

In 2021, the American Rescue Plan significantly expanded the child tax credit, increasing payments by up to $1,600, paying out the credit monthly, and expanding eligibility to include more families in need.

The result was nothing short of miraculous. The expanded credit lifted 2.9 million children out of poverty, provided a crucial lifeline to families during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, and brought the US child poverty rate to the lowest level ever recorded.

It was one of the most successful policy decisions our government has made in decades.

Enter Joe Manchin.

Last December, the West Virginia senator, houseboat enthusiast, and Maserati collector reportedly refused to extend the credit because—per private comments—he believed low-income parents would spend it on drugs instead of feeding their children. This was despite a survey by the Census Bureau released just months earlier that proved over 90% of families were spending the money on food, shelter, and school supplies for their kids. And it was despite acute poverty in his home state, where the tax credit helped more than 300,000 children in 2021.

But Manchin refused to extend the expansion, and Senate Republicans did nothing to help. It lapsed at the end of 2021, leading to an immediate, massive increase in child poverty in 2022, doubling from 5.2% to 12.4%.

Now 11 million children live in poverty, and 19 million receive less than the full tax credit because their parents don’t make enough money. Senator Manchin has seemingly yet to be visited by three spirits to persuade him that this is unacceptable. But after two years of sustained pressure by activists and advocates, there are finally signs that this profoundly impactful benefit could be restored.

A bipartisan coalition is growing on Capitol Hill to bring back the expanded credit in some form, with a tax deal that could be reached as soon as January. It would cost an estimated $50 billion over two years—the price of less than four aircraft carriers.

If they succeed, it would represent an unambiguous win for all parties. 75% of voters are in favor of restoring the credit—including 64% of Republicans. Even the conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition have called for the credit to be expanded, in a letter signed by evangelical right-wing heavyweights like Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum.

Of course, there is posturing at play—the letter emphasizes low marriage rates and “strengthening the overall family unit”—but if indulging a bit of regressive nostalgia is what it takes to lift kids out of poverty, it’s a small price to pay.

Meanwhile, across the country—and beyond the child tax credit—there are proposals that reflect a growing consensus that ending poverty is within our power. Last year, I wrote about the End Poverty in California movement—originated by Upton Sinclair in the 1930s, now revitalized by former Stockton, California mayor Michael Tubbs. Since its inception as a nonprofit last February, EPIC has embarked on a statewide listening tour and helped secure $100m in funding in the California state budget for tens of thousands of lower-income California children.

Other anti-poverty programs gaining steam include baby bonds, which would provide every American child with start-up money and level the economic playing field from birth. This would reduce the racial wealth gap from 91% to 25%—and a majority of voters support the idea. Baby bond legislation has been passed in California, Connecticut, and Washington, DC and introduced in eight other states this year. A national version has been introduced by Cory Booker and Ayanna Pressley.

Anti-poverty activism is nothing new. The Poor People’s Campaign was launched by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 and is continued today by Bishop William Barber and Reverend Liz Theoharis. This year, Barber called poverty a “death sentence” and said, “There’s not a scarcity of resources, but a scarcity of political will” to end poverty.

  • Katrina vanden Heuvel is editor and publisher of the Nation and serves on the Council on Foreign Relations

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