Hunger rises following expiration of Child Tax Credit
Childhood hunger is up following the expiration of the Child Tax Credit. (Photo from Lance Cheung for the U.S. Department of Agriculture)
The number of Hoosier children experiencing food insecurity increased following the expiration of the advanced Child Tax Credit and other pandemic relief measures earlier this year, according to those serving the state’s hungry.
“As those supplemental resources came in, those were very vital to families and individuals… and so that did sustain many of them,” said Marcie Luhigo, the executive director of the Indiana division of the Midwest Food Bank. “But we did see an increased need… as those extra resources went away.”
In March 2021, the American Rescue Plan allowed the government to pay the existing Child Tax Credit (CTC) in monthly installments, rather than a lump sum refund during tax filing. It also increased the amount families could receive and expanded the number of families who qualified – both of which served to reduce childhood hunger across the country.
In the United States, which has a higher child poverty rate than many advanced countries, an estimated 35 million families could expect $250 per month for children under 18, or $300 monthly for children under 6 years of age.
But those advanced credits weren’t renewed in December 2021, meaning that month’s payment were the last for families. Some Democrats believe they have a chance to revive the program, as detailed by the New York Times last week. One year of payments cost $100 billion and didn’t lead to an anticipated drop in parent workforce participation, as many feared.
What the payments meant to families
A report from Children’s HealthWatch, a nonpartisan group of pediatricians and children’s health experts, found that the CTC payments increased the family’s economic stability, which also improved parent mental health and child welfare. Black, Latino, Indigenous and immigrant families are more likely to struggle to afford basic needs and have poor health outcomes – even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When everybody was receiving (the CTC), it was easier to like pay bills and, you know, buy things for the kids,” one Boston parent told the organization. “… it was a little easier when we was receiving (the CTC)… so it made things a little more difficult like when it did stop.”
Families receiving the payments were 2.66 times more likely to be caught up on rent, according to the report. Many families fell behind on rent payments during the pandemic, prompting the federal government to prohibit evictions.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which analyzes state- and federal-level policy choices, about 93% of Indiana’s children, nearly 1.5 million, benefited from the expansion. Of those, 1 million are white children, compared to 163,000 Black children and 165,000 Latino children.
Roughly 80,000 children were lifted above the poverty line (some of them temporarily) with the payments.
A trio of Boston researchers urged Congress to reinstate the credit in an October analysis, finding that one in four children were more food insufficient following its expiration.
Through a survey of 592,044 respondents, the study concluded that the end of the payments under the CTC “were associated with a 25% increase in food insufficiency among households with children.”
The team defined food insufficiency as a household shortage of food in the last seven days – as opposed to food insecurity, in which a household cannot afford enough food to feed the entire family. Nationally, food insufficiency increased during the COVID-19 pandemic but fell following the introduction of the CTC in March 2021.
In January 2022, the first month without payments, 13.6% of households with children reported food insufficiency, a number that rose to 16% by late June/ early July.
“The findings of this study suggest that there was an increase in food insufficiency among households with children after they stopped receiving monthly CTC payments,” the researchers said. “Given the well-documented associations between inability to afford food and poor health outcomes across the life span, Congress should consider swift action to reinstate this policy.”
The U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey found that 30% of CTC recipients used the funds to cover school expenses and 25% paid for childcare with the monies. Black and Hispanic families were more likely than white households to spend their benefits on school expenses at 42%, 31% and 26%, respectively.
Benefits expire as inflation looms
Luhigo said the need for food pantries fluctuated during the pandemic, spiking in the early months of 2020 – especially for the unsheltered homeless population and service workers. As the federal government expanded food benefits and passed the new version of the CTC, demand for food banks decreased and the nation saw childhood poverty drop by 46%, the largest single-year drop ever recorded. Since the expiration of those supplemental resources, an estimated 4 million children have fallen below the poverty line.
But while the expiration of those benefits could have been enough to drive families back to food pantries, Luhigo said that inflation played a large role. Families are paying between $300 and $400 more each month compared to last year because of inflation.
“For months and months in a row, prices for food went up in multiple categories – produce is higher, meat is higher, almost every kind of thing that would be healthy for folks to get for their families to eat is more costly,” Luhigo said. “Which means that (families) just don’t have enough to stretch through the entire month and the need went up.”
While fuel prices fell from their summer high, groceries are still 12.4% more expensive on average – a difficult cost increase for many, but even more so for those on fixed incomes. In particular, grandparents living on retirement but raising their grandchildren – a growing population – struggled with high fuel prices and rising grocery prices.
“Benefits just don’t go as far with inflation,” Luhigo said. “As inflation compounded over the year, that put some of those people in situations where they visited a pantry for the very first time this year.”
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