Columbus families feel loss of expanded child tax credit

Rainey Richardson remembers being told over the holidays that her family would no longer be getting extra money from the government to stay afloat.

Her family was among thousands of people in Ohio who received monthly payments last year through the expanded child tax credit. The support came as relief at a difficult time: Richardson quit her job during the pandemic to help their children learn at home, so they relied solely on her husband’s income.

The family was already eligible for the tax credit under its original parameters, but the temporary expansion approved by Congress increased the amount of money they could receive. The payments helped cover car insurance, groceries, clothes and shoes for their five children, although Richardson said they were still waiting for the money owed to them for their youngest child.

“It was definitely a tough time for us financially, so it really helped us a lot,” said Richardson, 36. “It didn’t help solve the problem, but it did help us sleep at night.”

Months after the expansion ended, families like Richardson’s are struggling with the high cost of groceries and gas without the added safety net. And nonprofits on the South Side of Columbus, where Richardson lives, can see the toll this is having on parents and children who were already struggling.

Expanded child tax credit under COVID relief

The child tax credit dates back to the 1990s, but Congress temporarily extended it last year as part of the US bailout. As part of the expansion, eligible families received $3,600 for children under age 6 and $3,000 for those ages 6 to 17. The program previously delivered $2,000 per child.

Congress also made the credit fully refundable, which expanded eligibility because filers did not need income to qualify for the full value. Families received monthly payments from January through December, and the remaining balance went on their 2021 tax returns.

The plan benefited about 2.3 million children in Ohio, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Proponents say credit has been instrumental in reducing child poverty rates.

“It’s had a huge benefit for our community,” said Katelin Hansen, chief operating officer of the nonprofit Community Development for All People. “People who are just getting by have suddenly had the opportunity to gain a foothold, sustain themselves, and even move forward in their situation.”

Hansen said the extra money has helped many families pay their rent, giving them a level of security they haven’t had before.

Now people are starting to fall behind again. Thia Thissen, director of student and family services for the non-profit organization SproutFive – formerly known as South Side Early Learning – said she has seen an increased need for rental assistance in the end of the expansion.

“It wasn’t fun money,” Thissen said.

Elizabeth Eberhart, left, celebrates her daughter Kezayah's recent graduation from Dominican University in Ohio.  She became eligible for the child tax credit because she has custody of three young grandchildren and said government money has helped with a bit of everything.

Battle with inflation makes further child tax credit expansion unlikely

For Elizabeth Eberhart, government money has helped with a bit of everything. Her children are older, but she has custody of three young grandchildren and became eligible for the credit because of them.

Finances are tight without the extra support, Eberhart said, and she can’t work full-time because she’s on disability. She’s also feeling the effects of inflation: buying ingredients for a spaghetti dinner at the grocery store costs twice as much as it used to.

“Things are constantly increasing, and we’re at the same income,” said Eberhart, 44, who lives on the South Side. “There’s no increase in salaries. No increase in anything except food prices, gas prices, rent, bills – the bare necessities you need. “

Sen. Sherrod Brown and other Democrats have pushed for permanent credit expansion, but that is unlikely to happen in the current political climate. Economists say the inflation can be partly attributed to COVID-19 relief funds distributed in 2020 and 2021, which overheated the economy as people had extra money to spend.

In a recent call with reporters, GOP Sen. Rob Portman said he wants to avoid more stimulus money such as the Child Tax Credit, calling it “one of the reasons why we are where we are”.

Without the extra buffer for families, South Side organizations are redoubling their efforts to connect people with affordable housing, food, and other daily necessities. SproutFive recently stocked up on baby formula for parents who can’t find it on grocery store shelves. Community Development for All People plans to build more affordable housing in the area.

But these organizations admit the job is easier when the federal government joins them in their efforts to help.

“It’s always so frustrating to see the headlines around the child tax credit and to see the number of children who are now back in poverty because they no longer receive this benefit,” said Jaclyn Dynia , Senior Director of Innovation and Research at SproutFive. “It seems like such a logical solution that I don’t understand why anyone would argue against it.”

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Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliate news organizations across Ohio.