When President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan in March, parents received the welcome news that the typical $2.000 child tax credit was going to be expanded to $3,000 per child ages 6-17, and $3,600 for kids under 6. Payments of $300 per child are set to begin in July and to expire in December of this year, but a group of Democratic senators are pushing for this increased child tax credit to be extended through 2025.
For me and other single parents, these kinds of regular payments would help us fill major child support gaps. According to the Brookings Institution, one in seven children lives in poverty. Almost a half of children living in poverty are from single-parent homes. While many news stories have been released claiming that this one-time increase in child tax credits for 2021 will cut poverty in half, experts acknowledge that additional payments beyond 2021 is what it will actually take to help families like mine get back on our feet.
In 2013, I lived in a small town in northern New Mexico. Although I did not make a lot of money, the cost of living was low, and I received adequate child support for my kids, who were then six and nine years old. When I learned that my place of employment was doing some belt-tightening and would be restructuring me out of a job, I applied to graduate school out of state, hoping that a master's degree would bring me more financial security and employment options in the future.
My ex-husband had moved out of state the year prior, so I did not anticipate that he would take me to court to challenge my own move—but he did. On the day of the hearing, however, he did not appear; instead, he called in while his attorney argued that my move would create too great of an expense for him for his visitation periods during the holidays. The judge decided that I could move if I agreed to reduce my child support payments to $300 a month in total—or $3,600 for a year. The reasoning was that the extra money would go towards the children flying back and forth to see their dad a few times a year. The judge did not take into account what it actually costs to raise a child, nor did they pay heed to the New Mexico child support guidelines, which suggest that the non-custodial parent should pay $666 per child per month.
In a report issued by the USDA in 2015, the cost of raising a child comes to $12,980 a year, or $233,610 in total from ages 0-18—excluding the cost of college. While this is an average that can vary according to each parent's finances, in general the costs of housing, food, clothing, and childcare—among other expenses—have only gone up in the six years since this report was issued.
In 2017, I filed to change child support—and began receiving $689 a month as a result. This was a big jump from $300, but for two children, it is still half as much as I should be receiving. Still, I suppose I should count myself lucky to receive child support at all: Over 70 percent of single moms don't receive any child support. And for those who do receive support, like me, it's typically far less money than it should be (due to a range of convoluted state guidelines and legal loopholes).
Only a handful of states have child support guidelines in place that require payments that come close to what it costs to raise a child. These states include Nevada, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Nebraska—an indication that neither cost of living or political leanings factor into how these policies are drafted. Notably, the Rocky Mountain states, which include my home state of New Mexico and my more recent state of residence, Montana, require some of the lowest child support payments in the country.
Over 70 percent of moms don't receive any child support. And for those who do receive support, like me, it's typically far less money than it should be.
The average amount of child support received by single parents has been dropping since 2003, when it came to $4,675 a year, or $389 a month. In 2017, the average amount of child support received by custodial parents from noncustodial parents was $3,431. While much needs to be done to reform the child support system so that it truly provides necessary financial support to children across the U.S., there is an opportunity now to extend the child tax credit and help lift single-parent homes out of poverty. For many single parents, $3,600 or $3,000 per child in a year is much more than they would hope to receive in child support from a co-parent. For families like mine, the extended tax credit would supplement the meagre child support we receive and help us cover the real costs of raising our children.
The pandemic has only exacerbated unemployment and poverty rates, which left unaddressed, will likely continue to snowball. We have an opportunity now to address poverty by extending child tax credits—thus giving families agency over how we support our children, and in turn helping those children escape generational poverty.