March 9, 2021 -- President Joe Biden's pandemic relief bill includes an expanded child tax credit that would give most families $3,600 a year for each child under age 6 and $3,000 a year for each older child, paid monthly. Experts in social services and pediatric health say the benefit will slash the childhood poverty rate and improve children's mental and physical health, with lifelong effects.
The bill, called the American Rescue Plan Act, passed the Senate on Saturday. The House is expected to vote on the amended bill Wednesday, with Biden's signature expected soon after.
The plan to expand the child tax credit, which is now $2,000 for each child under age 17, is in addition to the $1,400 stimulus checks many Americans are expecting. The expanded child tax credit is in place for just 1 year under the bill's provisions. But some policymakers are urging it to become permanent. In other countries, including Britain, similar plans have had a dramatic effect on childhood poverty, as The New York Times reports.
"The provision included in the COVID relief legislation is an important policy to address the impact of poverty on child health, especially as families continue to be affected by the pandemic," says Lee Savio Beers, MD, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In an AAP statement issued earlier in response to the plan, the organization noted that "the additional relief" for health and nutrition assistance "couldn't come soon enough," as many families are struggling to make ends meet.
Poverty and poor pediatric health are intertwined, says Michael Grosso, MD, chief medical officer and chair of pediatrics at Northwell Health's Huntington Hospital in Long Island, NY. The U.S. has unacceptably high rates of child poverty, he says. "As a people, we should be appalled."
According to the Center for American Progress, an independent policy institute, 1 in 7 children in America, or 11 million, live in poverty.
"Childhood poverty, food insecurity, and toxic stress go hand in hand and affect children for a lifetime," Grosso says. "We know that poverty impairs intellectual and emotional development, especially in the first few years of life, and is associated with persistent health problems like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and a reduced life expectancy."
The expanded credit has the potential to cut child poverty rates in the U.S. virtually in half, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, told MSNBC. And experts at the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University say the provisions of the bill, including the child tax credit as well as nutrition assistance and other benefits, could cut child poverty in half.
The expansion of the child tax credit will help those who need it most, says Alexandra Cawthorne Gaines, vice president of the Poverty to Prosperity program at the Center for American Progress.
"Households with children have borne the brunt of the pandemic, with child care closures, job and income losses posing long-term risks to the healthy development of young children in particular," she says. "The monthly [rather than annual] payout of the childhood tax credit can reduce the stress low-income families endure trying to make ends meet during an economic downturn.”