WASHINGTON – Democrats’ $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill includes a proposed change to the tax code aimed at pulling millions of children out of poverty, but it’s likely to see Republican objections as the Senate considers President Joe Biden’s plan this week.
Democrats want to increase the child tax credit up to $3,600 per child under age 6 and $3,000 for children up to age 17 for one year to help combat the economic damage of the pandemic. Some liberals are pushing even further to make the tax credit permanent. The current tax credit is up to $2,000 per child.
Advocates hailed the proposal as a tool to fight child poverty by opening the credit to working families who did not qualify because their income was too low.
Republicans have derided proposals such as the tax credit as not relevant in a COVID-19 relief package and oppose efforts to make it permanent.
The House passed Biden’s plan last week, Senate debate could start as soon as Wednesday, and a vote is likely by the end of the week. The House would need to approve the bill again if the Senate makes changes, meaning the bill could get a final vote Monday before heading to Biden.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., predicted Democrats would pass the bill, saying Tuesday he did not think there would be any Senate changes “so egregious” it would fail when it returned to the House.
Here’s what the child tax credit provision in the bill would do:
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What’s the credit do?
Democrats’ proposal would expand the tax credit from $2,000 to $3,600 and expand eligibility to families who make no or very little income each year.
A National Bureau of Economic Research report last year estimated that most children living in the bottom 10% of incomes were “completely ineligible” for the credit and that the bottom 30% could receive only a partial credit. Half of Black and Latino children were eligible for the full credit.
The left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated Democrats’ changes would lift 9.9 million children above or closer to the poverty line. Many of those would be Black, Latino or Asian American children whose families did not qualify because their household incomes are too low to qualify for the tax credit.
Democrats’ first draft of the bill turned the child tax credit into a monthly refund, but the final House draft made the credit a “periodic” payment, potentially a quarterly one, to survive procedural challenges in the Senate. Payments would start in July 2021 based on 2019 or 2020 tax returns.
The $2,000 tax credit has been in effect since a Republican-led tax overhaul in 2017 and is an annual tax credit. Families are eligible to receive up to $1,400 per child if the amount of tax credit exceeds the amount of taxes owed. It phases out when incomes exceed $400,000 for a household or $200,000 for individuals.
The revised credit would phase out when incomes exceeded $150,000 for a household, or $75,000 for individuals.
According to the Joint Congressional Committee on Taxation, a nonpartisan congressional panel, the proposal could cost more than $110 billion for the year the expanded credit was in effect.
Who supports the credit?
Democrats strongly support the proposal, and it is likely to remain in the final version of the bill the Senate is working on this week.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has spent nearly two decades advocating for the credit. Its expansion, she said, could be “transformative” for American families and might be “as big a change as with the New Deal and Social Security.”
She addressed Republicans’ concerns about the implementation of the legislation and it becoming a form of “welfare,” telling USA TODAY the child tax credit was “not a new concept” and had “been successful.”
DeLauro noted Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said at her confirmation hearing she would work to get a payment system for the child tax credit set up “as rapidly as possible.”
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It is unlikely the final package will pass with Republican support in the Senate. Many Republican senators oppose the $1.9 trillion price tag and the inclusion of provisions they call irrelevant to COVID-19 relief. The bill passed the House last week without any Republican votes, and two Democrats voted against it.
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Who opposes it?
Republicans stand against the permanent expansion of the credit but have supported more modest versions of the same program.
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, expressed concerns to the IRS about the implementation of a payment system for the credit and difficulties in funding it.
Grassley said Tuesday the credit would be an “administrative nightmare.”
Other Republican senators proposed their own changes to the child tax credit.
Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida introduced a proposal that would expand the credit to $3,500 and $4,500 for young children.
Democrats’ proposal, Rubio said in a statement, would turn the credit into “welfare,” so their proposal ties the benefit to employment.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, introduced a plan to provide a $350-per-child monthly cash benefit for families with children under 6 years old or $250 per month for children 17 and younger. Romney’s proposal would be paid for by eliminating federal programs such as a deduction for state and local taxes and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a cash assistance program.