Throughout the pandemic, families in need of food assistance have received monthly payments to help cover the cost of food for children who faced greater food insecurity as a result of remote schooling making it harder to get free school meals. While those payments were extended to at least the end of the year as part of the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package passed in March, there is concern that the families who may need the payments most won’t receive it.
According to Huffpost, the IRS will begin sending out monthly checks worth up to $300 per child to families starting in July. Families making up to $150,000 will receive the full benefit while families making up to $400,000 will receive a partial amount, and the payments will run until the end of the year. The Biden administration has repeatedly said that the program will help cut child poverty in half, though there’s one problem getting in the way of that goal: Some of the country’s poorest families may not receive these payments or even be aware that they’re eligible for them.
The money that’s being distributed monthly is a boosted child tax credit. The American Rescue Plan, the nearly $2 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Biden signed in March, increased the child tax credits for middle- to low-income families from $2,000 to up to $3,600 and also instructed the IRS to pay the credit in advance, effectively creating a temporary child allowance through 2021. The law also got rid of the existing child tax credits’ income-based phase-in, basically opening up the benefit to families that have no income.
That means for this year, families should be receiving up to $300 per child every month from the IRS through December. The remaining benefit, which maxes out at $3,600 per child, will be given to parents with their 2021 tax return.
The problem: families in most dire need of financial aid aren’t in the IRS system. More than a third of children in poverty in the United States live in households that don’t file taxes, and more than half of those in what is considered deep poverty (50% below the poverty line) are in non-tax-filing households, according to the People’s Policy Project, a leftist think tank.
That tax-based approach has led to problems with the other COVID relief payments. An estimated 12 million Americans didn’t receive a stimulus check because they didn’t file federal taxes. While the IRS eventually made an online tool to help people secure their payments using data from the Social Security Administration, the Veterans Administration and Railroad Retirement Board, it only wound up reaching approximately 5.4 million people.
“A lot of people don’t know that the credit is coming,” Sergio Mata-Cisneros, a policy analyst with the Christian anti-hunger organization Bread for the World, told Huffpost. “These are people who have a high rate of experiencing food insecurity and will benefit from the credit the most and it’s mostly also children of color so we are urging the administration to do outreach and work with community organizations in order to reach these people.”
This is, on paper, a great program. There’s no reason any child should have to deal with starvation in the wealthiest nation in the world, and it’s smart to use rebuilding from the pandemic as a way to address long standing social ills in the country. Though, if the program is to be more than just good on paper, then there has to be a secure and easy way for the families that need it most to participate.
Mata-Cisneros added that the Biden administration has been open to working with local organizations on a campaign to ensure those most in need are signed into the online portal, so they can receive their payments.
With little over a month until the first round of payments are set to go out, I’m hoping we see start to see more and more outreach efforts in underserved communities to ensure there aren’t any families going hungry when there’s help readily available.