Most of us rely on some cash assistance to get by at some point, whether we realize it or not.
For wealthy people, that might include a family trust or any number of elaborate tax breaks. For middle-income people, it might come in the form of a mortgage interest deduction on their taxes, an inheritance, or a grandparent’s contribution to a college fund.
But for many working people, that kind of help can only come from public programs — the kind that are now under threat from conservatives in Congress.
I worked in a homeless shelter for disabled adults for a decade. The work was grueling, physically and emotionally. And even after 10 years, my hourly pay was just $10 without benefits. I had a second job as a waitress, but it still wasn’t enough.
All this was supposed to finance my college education. But instead I accrued debt from unpaid college fees and had to drop out. A few years later I was a single mom with a child on the spectrum who needed expensive care that my jobs simply couldn’t cover.
Then, at tax time a few years ago, I got my first Child Tax Credit (CTC) refund. I paid off those college fees, returned to school, and got my degree. In another year, I used my CTC benefit to buy my child a bed.
Other programs, like federal food aid and state health insurance, helped keep us afloat the rest of the year. Meanwhile I worked two jobs, lived with two roommates, got a better job as a case worker with my degree, and went to grad school.
When the pandemic hit, my work and home life were upended. The extra help provided by the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan Act was a lifeboat for us. Most important was the expanded Child Tax Credit, which paid out bigger amounts monthly instead of just once a year.
It was life-changing. I stopped putting groceries and bills at the end of the month on credit cards. I paid down debts. I took my child to a water park! I could breathe easily for the first time in my hard-working life. I don’t know what I would have done without the expanded Child Tax Credit.
Then it was gone.
Conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill refused to renew the credit’s expansion, letting it expire in late 2021. Child poverty immediately increased. Now the House is trying to extend permanent tax breaks to the ultra wealthy and slash nearly every social program that’s helped keep families like mine afloat in times of need.
We shouldn’t be denying help to the people who need it most so we can give more to those who need it least. My family and millions of others are living proof of the need for greater investments in social assistance.
These programs helped all my hard work pay off. They helped me get a college education, serve my community, get a better job, escape a bad relationship, and get my child the care he needed.
When we invest our tax dollars in social programs that help everyday people get ahead, our whole society benefits. We become healthier, more productive, and able to access opportunities for a good life. And that’s good for the entire economy.
Lawmakers should be expanding that safety net, not shredding it. They can start by bringing back the expanded Child Tax Credit.