Politics

Parents, Let’s Spend Our Child Tax Credit Checks on Big-Screen TVs and Not Tell Our Kids

A long-haired child watching a large screen TV.
Not for you, kiddo! carpinxo/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Across the United States, households that include nonadult children and that had a 2020 tax-year adjusted gross income of less than $400,000 or so are beginning to receive the Child Tax Credit (CTC) monthly advance payments created by the American Rescue Plan. In layperson’s terms, another round of Biden Bux is going out, but only to those of us who have made the profoundly life-sabotaging, and yet also profoundly life-rewarding, and also helpful as far as having someone to take us to doctor’s appointments when we are old, choice to raise children. All right!

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As a policy and political matter, the distribution of the child tax credit is one of the first major tests of President Joe Biden’s decision to “go big” on social welfare spending. In addition to creating the advance payment schedule, March’s American Rescue Plan expanded the size of the credit and made it “fully refundable,” which means that whatever amount of it may be left over for a given family after they’ve satisfied their federal income tax obligation goes to them as cash. The ARP expansion only applies to 2021’s credit, but Democrats are hoping to extend it in the upcoming reconciliation bill, and that it will eventually be popular enough to make permanent.

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In that respect, signs are positive—polls have found wide support, among respondents to whom the ideas are explained, for both the idea of monthly payments and for paying for the expanded credits by raising taxes on high earners and investors. (The American Rescue Plan didn’t raise taxes, but Biden and many congressional Democrats would like to finance the trillions of dollars in “human infrastructure” that are expected to be included in the reconciliation bill by doing so.)

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One problem that Biden and Democrats face with all of their social-spending plans is making sure that voters realize the programs exist, both so they can take advantage of them and so they can reward Democrats for the extra cash by not voting them out of power in 2022. The CTC monthly payments are one way to address this; if you’re eligible and you filed taxes, you get the money automatically, as well as a letter “from” Biden explaining what’s going on. There are many people who aren’t required to file income taxes, though, which includes many of the lower-income families who would most benefit from the new payments. (If you didn’t file a 2020 return, you can sign up to receive the CTC payments here; if you did and want to check on the status of your potential payment, you can do so here.) A poll released by Data for Progress in early June found that 33 percent of respondents had only heard “a little” about the CTC expansion, while 18 percent hadn’t heard of it at all.

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This is, to be sure, a problem that needs to be addressed. But it also suggests a major opportunity. Data for Progress was only surveying adults, because only adults can vote. There are probably even fewer children who’ve heard about the Themselves Tax Credit, particularly those who can’t read, or only want to read about things like fairy tales, magic animals, or baseball. They don’t know we’re getting the money! If we don’t spend it on “childcare, healthcare, food, clothes, or anything else to provide for your kids,” they’re not going to know. They won’t know if we spend it on stuff for ourselves, like bigger and fancier televisions that go in “the big bedroom” where kids can’t watch them!

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Hang on, you might be saying. Isn’t this program supposed to address the massive intertwined crises of wealth inequality, housing costs, and child-care scarcity, rather than parents’ access to consumer goods? And isn’t this just a partial advance on a tax credit, which means that you might want to save it if you expect to still owe an amount greater than the sum of your monthly advances to the Internal Revenue Service in April 2022? And don’t you, yourself, have a number of pressing expenses related to housing and child-care that could be addressed first? To that I say, sure, but also [putting fingers in ears and screaming] I can’t hear you, and [screaming even louder] I want a better TV! Social democracy means free money! No one show this post to Mitch McConnell or my wife!

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