For many families, monthly child tax credit payments arriving just in time
Carrie Duran and her daughter Katie attend a rally in Manchester celebrating the new child tax credit program. (Courtesy of MomsRising)
Single mom Carrie Duran of Wolfeboro was shouldering a lot before the pandemic. She was in school full time, working part time, and caring for her twins and a daughter who has Down syndrome.
“It’s been pretty tight. We’ve struggled financially quite a bit,” Duran said. “But with a little luck and a whole lot of coffee for mom, we made it through. We squeaked by.”
Then, when her dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Duran had to quit school and take unpaid leave from her job as a teaching assistant to care for him. “That squeaking by became that we were drowning, absolutely drowning,” she said.
Even after Duran was able to get her father into a nursing home and return to work, money was tight and has remained so. Thursday brought some good news: a $750 deposit thanks to a one-year change in the federal child tax credit program that will give parents money for each child each month until December.
“This month I have to have my car inspected,” said Duran, who needs transportation to get to work and get her daughter to weekly medical appointments. “I was absolutely stressing about how I was going to come up with the money. This is going to definitely take the sting out of that.”
Under the prior child care tax credit program, passed in the 1990s, parents could use the credit to reduce their federal income taxes by up to $2,000 per child. Parents who didn’t work and pay income tax could not take advantage of the credit, and there was no option for monthly payments.
The American Rescue Plan made significant changes by expanding eligibility to all parents, even those not working; increasing the credit to up to $3,600 per child; and including 17-year-olds. It also introduced the monthly payments, which will pay families half their total credit between now and December. The other half will still be paid as a tax credit.
With the expanded eligibility, an estimated 222,000 or 87 percent of New Hampshire children under 18 will qualify for the payments: up to $300 a month for each child under 6 and up to $250 a month for each child ages 6 to 17. People who file federal taxes should automatically receive the payments in their bank accounts – unless they opt to unenroll and take the full credit when they file their 2021 taxes. Those who don’t file taxes can register online for the credit at the IRS website. The amount of monthly payments is tied to income, and there are several online calculators to determine eligibility and estimated payments.
New Hampshire’s federal and state lawmakers celebrated Thursday’s arrival of the first payments in virtual roundtables, press conferences, and at a Manchester rally organized by MomsRising, which has a detailed FAQ on the new program on its website.
“This expansion recognizes the incredibly high cost of raising children, as well as the importance of prioritizing children’s health and their well being,” Sen. Maggie Hassan told a group of mothers last week. U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster attended the Manchester rally alongside Xavier Becerra, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “I am hearing stories from families in New Hampshire who have decided that they’ll use their money . . . for more days of day care so that they can go back to work,” Kuster said. “And from families who can pay for health care needs, who can pay for diapers, who can pay for transportation. This is what our families need. They need a little bit of help.”
Lauren Dwyer of Pembroke and her family are among them.
Dwyer never turned her master’s degree into a job in order to care for her 11-year-old daughter, whose autism requires regular therapy appointments, doctor visits, and special education meetings. It’s a role she enjoys, but it means her husband’s salary supports the family.
When the couple learned recently that their daughter needed braces and the house couldn’t wait for a new roof, Dwyer did the math. If she could shave $75 a week off her family’s grocery bill, she wouldn’t cover that entire $22,000 bill, but she wouldn’t have to deplete her and her husband’s savings either.
“This (expanded tax credit) needs to be permanent,” Dwyer said. “One year, I don’t think it’s enough. With COVID, people couldn’t work or people had to take leave. There are so many stories. You can take an awful lot and sometimes it is too much.”
The pandemic didn’t keep Jodi Newell of Keene from her work as a homeless advocate – but a $2,000 car problem threatened to. Newell, a mother of two teenagers, works at a shelter two hours from her house, where she puts in 36 hours each weekend. She’s putting her first $500 monthly check toward a car.
“You’re carrying along and something comes up every time you think that you’ve covered the budget,” she said. “Relieving a little bit of that financial stress was huge, I think, for just the mental health of being able to know that the bills are going to be paid and know that that part of it doesn’t need to be a part of the stress.”
A $300 monthly payment will allow Pepper Nappo of Derry to enroll her 4-year-old son in preschool and return to her barbering work. Derry does not offer free preschool, and without a monthly tax credit payment Nappo and her husband could not afford the weekly bill.
“It will mean a lot for me,” she said. “Dividing it up over the six month period, that kind of money for low-income houses makes a huge difference.”
Molly Lunn Owen keeps up with all things political as executive director of 603 Forward, an advocacy group focused on economic and social justice for young Granite Staters. Her support for the expanded child tax credit comes from personal experience.
The pandemic closed her 1-year-old daughter’s day care permanently, and Lunn Owen left her work to take care of her daughter while they looked for a new place. The couple made a list of the 25 child care centers within Manchester and called them several times a week for a month before they found an opening. The $14,000 yearly cost is average in New Hampshire, Lunn Owen said.
“Despite record-low unemployment in New Hampshire, many parents cannot return to work without access to available, affordable child care,” she said. The arrival of pandemic aid for businesses is starting to change that, she said, adding the expanded tax credit “will help put money back into the pockets of parents like me and will set our children up to thrive in a loving care environment”
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