Loss Of Child Tax Credit Payments May Have Hurt Joe Biden’s Approval Rating

New research suggests good policy — reducing child poverty — might also be good politics.
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Parents who received monthly child tax credit payments were likelier than the average voter to approve of President Joe Biden last year, but actually might have become less likely to approve of Biden after the checks stopped.

Survey data suggests Biden’s approval was 4 percentage points higher among parents when the payments started in July, according to researchers at Fighting Chance for Families Action, a project of the liberal groups Data for Progress and Groundwork Collaborative.

As Biden’s approval among likely voters sagged last fall, the apparent boost from the child tax credit diminished as well. But after the payments unexpectedly stopped in January, the “CTC effect” actually turned slightly negative, though not to a statistically significant degree.

“While not massive, these effects are clear at the margins — which is extremely important in politics,” Fighting Chance for Families Action researchers Colin McAuliffe, Ahmad Ali and Ethan Winter wrote in their report.

A four-point boost in approval among parents, like the one the payments may have initially provided, would amount to less than one point overall, since most voters aren’t looking after minor children. But parents of school-age kids have been an especially important constituency in national politics for the past six months, with Republicans claiming public schools abuse children and trample parental rights.

Democrats have said they believed the expanded child tax credit would create a “sacred bond” between parents and the federal government akin to the way Social Security retirement benefits transformed seniors into a powerful voting bloc, making the benefits almost untouchable politically.

The American Rescue Plan boosted the credit’s maximum value to $3,600 for parents of kids under 6 ($3,000 for kids under 18) and told the IRS to distribute the money in advance monthly installments — even to parents with no tax liability and no earned income. In effect, the credit became the kind of monthly child allowance that is typical in other countries.

But the payments suddenly stopped after six months without any major upheaval, even though Democrats had promised the money would continue and that its discontinuation would spike child poverty. Thirty-six million households were left hanging; several parents told HuffPost they felt betrayed.

The unexpected demise of the expanded child tax credit resulted from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) refusing to go along with his party’s Build Back Better Act, which would have continued the benefits for another year. Manchin particularly disliked the credit, claiming parents waste it on drugs.

Early research suggests that the expiration of the benefit has, in fact, increased child poverty by 40%. Since the simplest way to alleviate poverty is to give people money, the simplest way to make it worse is to take the money away.

After the payments stopped, parents with young children have experienced increased material hardship and financial instability, according to a new analysis of Census data by scholars at Poverty Solutions, a research initiative at the University of Michigan.

Rates of food insufficiency — defined in the report as a survey respondent saying there was either sometimes or often “not enough to eat” in their household during the prior week — had been consistently higher among parents of minor children during the coronavirus pandemic. The child tax credit narrowed the gap, which had once again widened by February, after the credit went away. A similar pattern held for parents who said it’s been “very difficult” to pay basic expenses.

In other words, Congress put low-income families on a poverty roller coaster. But the economic impact of the child benefit coming and going has been mostly ignored in Washington, where the threat of inflation has taken center stage.

“While much attention has been placed on the impact of rising prices on the ability of families to pay for basic necessities, the impact of the expiration of monthly CTC payments is much more clear,” the University of Michigan’s Patrick Cooney, ​​ Luke Shaefer, and Samiul Jubaed wrote in their report.

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