Armed With Teddy Bears, West Virginia Moms Fight To Save The Child Tax Credit

They urged Sen. Joe Manchin to back the credit, which he has refused to do.
Teddy bears meant to represent West Virginia children appear on the National Mall during an event to urge Congress to expand the Child Tax Credit, Feb. 2.
Teddy bears meant to represent West Virginia children appear on the National Mall during an event to urge Congress to expand the Child Tax Credit, Feb. 2.
Tom Williams via Getty Images

WASHINGTON ― A small group of mothers from West Virginia came to the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to ask their senators and representatives to bring back the child tax credit that gave most American parents a monthly cash benefit last year.

It’s a tough sell. More than 36 million households received the cash from July through December, but Democrats hit a wall in their efforts to continue the payments this year, despite months of promises.

Behind a pile of teddy bears in front of the Capitol reflecting pool, the West Virginia moms spoke about how the monthly benefit alleviated their daily hardships: high heating costs, medical emergencies and their kids’ schools going virtual. The child tax credit, their signs said, made life “bearable.”

“Using our children as scapegoats, pushing them back into poverty after offering them a hand up, is not only unacceptable, it’s unbearable and un-American,” said Amy Jo Hutchison, an anti-poverty activist and mother of two from Wheeling.

The women then toured congressional office buildings, meeting with staff from most of the West Virginia delegation, including aides to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

Democrats had hoped to continue the child tax credit payments as part of a much broader bill called the Build Back Better Act, but after months of negotiations, Manchin announced in December that he wouldn’t support it.

Democrats say they don’t know what changes Manchin wants, though he has suggested he’d like to exclude the poorest and richest families from receiving the benefit. He’s also said it should be funded for 10 years instead of temporarily, as Democrats have proposed. He has avoided saying publicly that it should be yanked out of the Build Back Better bill, though he has reportedly suggested doing so to the White House.

After meeting with Manchin’s staff, the mothers didn’t come away with a clear idea of what Manchin wants ― except that he does want the tax credit out of Build Back Better.

“What we were told is that he may support a standalone expanded CTC under certain conditions,” Megan Hullinger told HuffPost.

Hullinger is a 38-year-old mother of four from Marlinton. She works as an outreach specialist for a social services organization, helping people with mental health and substance use disorders find available services. The extra money last year helped cover all the basic expenses ― expenses that have continued growing even after the monthly payments stopped this year.

“Gas prices have gone way up, which of course means my heating cost has gone up,” Hullinger said. “Utilities have gone up. We had to pay for enough bandwidth to cover all my kids through their Zoom and everything else during school.”

It’s possible that allowing the child tax credit to expire could damage Democrats’ standing with voters. According to new polling from Fighting Chance for Families, a project of the liberal groups Data for Progress and Groundwork Collaborative, Democrats in January enjoyed a 9-point advantage over Republicans on the question of “Which party do you trust more to support parents with children?”

That advantage evaporated among survey respondents who were informed that “Democrats allowed the expanded CTC to expire in December 2021.” Among a separate group of respondents who were told Democrats would continue the CTC benefits in 2022, the Democratic trust advantage grew to 14 points. The swings were greater among people who’d themselves received the cash payments last year.

Democrats can’t revive the monthly payments without Manchin’s support, and if he won’t support it as part of Build Back Better, the policy could be doomed. That’s because a standalone tax credit bill wouldn’t have the advantage of the special budget process Democrats are using for the broader legislation, which only requires the support of 50 senators to pass. A standalone child tax credit bill would need 10 Republicans ― a real long shot.

“I think it’s doable, so long as they’re willing to make it a real child tax credit, which is a tax credit that applies against income,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told HuffPost.

The most significant change Democrats made to the child tax credit last year, besides boosting the credit’s top value to $3,600 and telling the IRS to pay it as an advance monthly refund, was that they eliminated its earnings requirement ― meaning families with no income could qualify. That’s why the payments likely reduced child poverty by nearly 30%. Reinstating the income requirement, as Rubio suggested, would wipe out much of the poverty reduction. So far, Democrats have been unwilling to go there, though that could change.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) a chief proponent of the child tax credit who has resisted the idea of a “work requirement,” sounded on Thursday like he was a little more open to a standalone bill, which would require major compromises. “We’ve got a responsibility to try to find any vehicle we can to ensure that we’re not raising taxes on working people,” Bennet told HuffPost.

Stormy Johnson, a 44-year-old mother of three from Preston, said Manchin’s staff was “super vague” about what he wanted to happen with the child tax credit, except that it should be excluded from Build Back Better.

Johnson works as a student support specialist for her local public school system. She said the monthly payments stopped at a bad time, with cold weather increasing her utility bills and pushing her into debt.

“I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to take care of my kids and provide for my kids, while still making sure that they’re not stressed because they’re worried about me, because they know that I’ll go without,” Johnson said.

Melanie Braun, a 43-year-old mother of five from Morgantown, said the monthly payments made her worry less about money, recalling a particular moment in September when she took her 15-year-old daughter to buy a dress for her high school formal.

“We walked in, she picked out her dress and we left,” Braun said. She was so happy, she texted a friend that it felt like the first time money concerns hadn’t spoiled something nice.

As for Manchin and the child tax credit, she said, “I get the impression that he just doesn’t want to pass it, period.”

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