The absence of the advance Child Tax Credit (CTC) payment this month could push nearly 4 million children into poverty, a new study projects.
The monthly child poverty rate is estimated to jump to 17% in January from 12% in December, according to the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, marking the highest monthly rate since December 2020.
The estimates come after more than 36 million families received their sixth and final monthly CTC payment in mid-December and as the future of the credit’s expansion remains uncertain on Capitol Hill.
“It is largely mechanical that if you take away the Child Tax Credit that incomes are going to plunge,” Claudia Sahm, director of macroeconomic research at the Jain Family Institute, told Yahoo Money. Sahm was not involved in the study.
The analysis estimated that the credit reduced monthly child poverty by close to 30%, preventing 3.7 million children from falling into poverty in December 2021. That included 163,000 Asian children, 737,000 Black children, 1.4 million Latino children, and 1.4 million white children.
Congress last month failed to extend the expanded CTC program, which was originally part of the Biden-backed American Rescue Plan passed in March 2021. The program increased the credit amount, authorized half to be distributed in advance each month, and made the credit fully refundable, allowing families with little to no income to qualify for the credit.
Supporters of the credit hailed it as one of the largest anti-poverty measures in modern history, providing economic relief to millions of households with children, including families in deep poverty.
“The monthly Child Tax Credits have buffered family finances amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing food insufficiency among low-income families with children and allowing families to meet other basic needs — all without negative employment effects,” the analysis stated.
The majority of families earning under $35,000 per year spent a portion — if not all — of the CTC payments on food, utilities, housing, and education, according to U.S. Census data.
Child tax credit benefits reached 61.2 million children by the year end
Last year, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) paid out six months of advance CTC payments — starting in July — worth up to $250 per child ages 6 to 17 and up to $300 per child under 6.
The payments initially reached 59.3 million children in July and eventually 61.2 million children at year end, an increase of 2 million over six months since its rollout. Over that span, the total number of children kept out of poverty grew by more than 700,000, an increase of over 23%, the center found.
Making the credit fully refundable also meant that Black and Latino children, who had been disproportionately left out of the Child Tax Credit prior to the 2021 expansion, saw important anti-poverty gains last year, according to the report.
The first payment reduced child poverty among Black children by 21% in July and the sixth payment reduced it by 25%, according to the analysis. Similarly, the first payment reduced Latino child poverty by 25%, while the last payment reduced Latino child poverty by 30%.
‘Tax refunds will buffer to some extent’
The enhanced CTC was included in the Democrats’ Build Back Better plan — extending it for another year — but it didn’t garner enough support to pass Congress. Democrats may propose its expansion again — a move President Joe Biden supports — but some lawmakers want to include work and income requirements, which would shrink the credit's poverty-fighting effects.
“The new Child Tax Credit is a support to working families and middle-class families who are doing their best to support their kids,” Sahm said. “If you reinstate the work requirement, your effect on child poverty is basically gone.”
Families will get the remaining half of the Child Tax Credit in their tax refund after they file their federal returns. But the refund is no replacement for the income benefits the CTC provided, Sahm said.
“Tax refunds will buffer to some extent the loss income of the Child Tax Credit,” Sahm said. “However, the Child Tax Credit that low-income families received for six months allowed parents or guardians to change their budget and spending plans for the year and do more for their kids. But that money is gone, so they are back to their original budget, and back to spending less on their kids.”
Gabriella is a personal finance reporter at Yahoo Money. Follow her on Twitter @__gabriellacruz.