Right before Crystal Henry and her husband were about to have their second child last year, both of their cars died and a tree fell on their garage. Their pandemic relief checks became a safety net amid the unexpected expenses.
This year, the Merriam couple expects more than $7,000 from another aid program — the Child Tax Credit — that will soon help keep them afloat as childcare costs consume more than a fifth of their income.
“It was hard for me to believe that it was really happening,” Henry said of discovering the credit.
When Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, a massive $1.9 trillion spending package, in March, a new round of relief checks for individuals, loans for businesses and funds for vaccinations drew significant attention. But the law signed by President Joe Biden also included a major expansion of the Child Tax Credit that will provide payments this year to millions of American families.
Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, are pushing this week to raise awareness of the program, encouraging taxpayers to file their returns soon to ensure they will begin to receive payments under the expanded program.
More than 314,000 children across the Kansas City region qualify for the credit, according to data released Tuesday by Davids and Cleaver’s offices.
On average, qualifying households in Kansas’ 3rd congressional district, which stretches from Kansas City, Kan., south to Louisburg, could receive $2,700 a year. In Missouri’s 5th congressional district, which includes Kansas City and goes east past Marshall, households could receive $3,100 a year on average.
Roughly 617,000 children in Kansas and 1.2 million children in Missouri qualify in total.
“To ensure hardworking families in Missouri receive this desperately needed relief as soon as possible, I strongly urge those who are eligible to file their 2020 tax return by May 17—even if you don’t normally file,” Cleaver said in a statement, referring to this year’s delayed tax filing deadline.
The expanded credit is in place for only 2021, but some Democrats in Congress are calling to extend it for several years or make it permanent. The push is coming as Biden works to pass the American Families Plan, a large social services bill that would subsidize universal pre-school and two years of free community college.
According to the White House, the proposal would also extend the enhanced Child Care Tax Credit through 2025. Davids, who faces a tough a re-election fight in 2022, said Tuesday a five-year extension “would be a good step forward.”
Every Kansas and Missouri Republican in Congress voted against the American Rescue Plan, citing the size of the package and spending unrelated to COVID-19. Republicans, who are in the minority in Congress, are expressing similar concerns with Biden’s new families proposal.
“I also agree that we should focus on supporting families and education, but these things are achieved through creating jobs and opportunities, not by adding an additional $1.8 trillion spending package,” Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, said after Biden’s speech to Congress last month.
Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, in April proposed his own tax credit program. It would provide a $6,000 credit for a single parent and a $12,000 credit for married parents of children under 13. Parents would need to earn at least $7,540 a year to qualify.
Kansas Republican Rep. Jake LaTurner, whose district includes parts of the larger Kansas City region, declined to comment through a spokesman. The offices of Missouri Republican Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Sam Graves, whose districts also include parts of the Kansas City region, didn’t respond to questions Tuesday.
Rep. Ron Estes, a Republican who represents Wichita, said in a statement Republicans expanded the Child Tax Credit in 2017, “making a meaningful difference in the lives of parents and their children.” That year, Congress approved a doubling of the maximum credit at the time from $1,000 to $2,000 per child.
“The current proposal transforms this pro-family credit into a Washington one-size-fits-all giveaway,” Estes said. “Instead, we should be focused on providing economic opportunities for families to grow their personal income through work while supporting their children.”
Under the expanded Child Tax Credit, families can receive up to $3,600 a year for children from birth to age six and $3,000 for children between six and 17 -- up from a $2,000 maximum before. The law authorizes families to receive up to half of the value of the credit in advance between July and December -- a cash boost for parents in the second half of 2021.
Single parents making up to $75,000 and couples making up to $150,000 a year are eligible for the full benefit, with payments phasing out for higher incomes.
“As someone who was raised by a single mom, we didn’t have a lot when I was growing up and when I think about the difference that monthly amount would have made in our lives, it’s pretty staggering,” Davids said during a virtual news conference Tuesday. “That’s more money for more families to put toward food, childcare, diapers, healthcare, education and so much more.”
Valeria Hernandez, a single mom in Kansas City, Kan. who, along with Henry, participated in Davids’ news conference, said the expanded credit will “help me a lot.” Hernandez, who works at a preschool, said she sees families who struggle because they don’t have childcare or lost a job.
Supporters of the expanded credit predict significant reductions in child poverty after the credit is fully implemented. Davids’ office says the credit will reduce child poverty in Kansas by nearly 40 percent, based on data compiled by Co-Equal, a data analytics group that performs analysis for members of Congress.
“I just feel like it’s going to help the whole community in Wyandotte County,” Hernandez said.
Advocates for people with disabilities are also touting the expanded credit because it lifts a minimum income requirement of $2,500 a year that excluded some people with disabilities or their parents from receiving payments.
Many people with disabilities are either unemployed or underemployed and sometimes their parents forgo work in order to provide care, said Rocky Nichols, director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas.
“The old way, it made no sense,” Nichols said. “It gave money to those with higher incomes and shut out poor families, including those with disabilities.”