WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Sherrod Brown have reintroduced a version of their American Family Act to dramatically fight childhood poverty.
The bill is similar to one Bennet, D-Colo., and Brown, D-Ohio, first introduced in 2017 to revamp the child tax credit and lower childhood poverty rates by almost one-third.
“I’ve met with parents across Colorado who tell me the paychecks they bring home aren’t enough to support their families, especially as the costs of child care, health care, housing and higher education continue to rise,” Bennet said Wednesday at a news conference.
The child tax credit, which provides up to $2,000 a year to families with a significant income, provides almost nothing to many poor families. The bill proposed by Bennet and Brown seeks to make the tax credit fully refundable, allowing almost all families to claim the credit.
Under the current tax credit model, if a family’s income is too low, the family is not eligible for the credit of up to $2,000 per year.
“If you have a tax credit that is not refundable, it is useless to low-wage workers and low-income workers,” said Chaer Robert, director of Family Economic Security Program with the Colorado Center on Law and Policy.
For example, a couple who earns less than $24,000 a year could not claim the child tax credit because their income is not high enough to owe income taxes, according to Robert.
“It seems a little backwards to us. Why should poor kids get less money?” Robert said.
With the current system, about one-third of all children – 27 million – are not eligible for the tax credit, according to Bennet’s office.
“In the current bill, there are millions of kids in Colorado who don’t get the benefit of the tax credit because of how it’s structured. Today, because of how we’re structuring it, they will have access to it,” Bennet told The Durango Herald after Wednesday’s news conference announcing the bill.
Families with younger children also face increased economic strain, Robert said. In addition to increased expenses with a new child, those families face high prices for child care, Robert said.
The Bennet-Brown proposal seeks to provide more support to families with children younger than 6 years old by creating an additional Young Child Tax Credit of $300 per month.
“Every family in Colorado who has a kid under 6 will see their child credit go up to $3,600,” Bennet told Herald. “It’ll also allow people to make decision about their own lives. ... It’s not the government making that decision. It’s Americans using the benefit of the tax credit to make those decisions.”
The House counterpart, sponsored by Reps. Rosa Delauro, D-Conn., and Suzan Delbene, D-Wash., already has 168 Democratic representatives signed on as supporters of the bill.
Almost all of the 2020 Democratic presidential nominees have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, creating more momentum around the 2019 act than the original Bennet-Brown proposal. But the bill, introduced in the Republican-controlled Senate and lacking Republican support, is not likely to pass this Congress.
“I can think of nothing more at war with who we are as Americans than allowing kids to grow up in poverty,” Bennet said.
Liz Weber is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.An earlier version of this story dropped the word “not” from a quote by Chaer Robert. The quote should have read: “If you have a tax credit that is not refundable, it is useless to low-wage workers and low-income workers.”