Appearing on CNN in September, the moderate Democrat from West Virginia implied that he would not support extending the monthly payments, which come in the form of an expanded child tax credit (CTC), without changes. “There’s no work requirements whatsoever,” he said. “There’s no education requirements whatsoever for better skill sets. Don’t you think, if we’re going to help the children, that the people should make some effort?”
Manchin supports new requirements for the expanded child tax credit that would likely end the benefit for thousands of families in his state.
Then on Oct. 17, Axios reported that Manchin also wanted to restrict the program to families with incomes of about $60,000 or less. If he prevails, it would most likely mean the end of those payments for James and Ruth.
“We want Manchin to take a little bit more active role in protecting us as far as West Virginians,” James, 64, said from his chair. “We’re not a bunch of deadbeats. We work for a living and we’re due.”
A spokeswoman for Manchin did not respond to requests for comment, including when asked about what specific requirements the senator would like to see in exchange for his support for continuing the expanded payments.
In West Virginia, 170,000 children became newly eligible under the tax credit expansion, which was included in Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed in March. The changes to the tax credit raised the maximum benefit from $2,000 to $3,600 per child per year and dramatically expanded the share of poor families receiving the credit. In July, the food insecurity rate in West Virginia households with children dropped from 11.6 percent to 8.4 percent, and in September a survey found 86 percent of West Virginians felt the payments had made a “huge difference.”
In interviews, families across the state said they used the money for essentials and small luxuries: new clothes for growing middle-schoolers, firewood to heat a home in the coming winter, pumpkins and a cheery scarecrow to mark the fall season, a 3-year-old’s class pictures. But now, advocates for the poor caution that Manchin’s requirements could have an impact on thousands of households, from parents grappling with expensive child care, to families earning over $60,000 but still struggling, to grandparents who are raising grandchildren but aren’t able to reenter the workforce.
“It takes everything out of us just to make sure these children are fed and taken care of and clothed,” said Ruth, 61. “We’ve been taking care of the children on our own dime.”
The future of the expanded child tax credit remains unclear as negotiations continue over the White House’s package of far-reaching social programs. Biden has signaled that he will resist attaching work requirements to the program.
For the Joneses, the cloakroom discussions and cable news debates playing out on television only seem to spotlight the gulf between their family and policymakers.
“The struggle is real,” James said. “These are not just numbers, these are people.”
‘Parenting is work. Raising kids is work.’
As the payments hit bank accounts in July, the benefit reached an estimated 60 million children in 39 million households across the country.
A team of researchers from Columbia University determined that the first round lifted 3 million children out of poverty and that if all eligible children had access to the payments, child poverty would be reduced by 40 percent.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that in West Virginia, 93 percent of children would benefit from a permanent expansion of the credit.