“There’s nothing like waking up and worrying if today they’re going to turn a utility off or wondering how much time you have to come up with the money to prevent that from happening,” Patricia, a mother of four in Michigan told us. For her, economic security would mean “not having to beg and borrow if you don’t have it or try to come up with last resort tactics to make sure you have groceries.”
The Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) spoke with Patricia and other caregivers of color to understand how the recently expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) is impacting them, and to learn what they would need from a permanent child allowance—or a guaranteed income for families with children—in order to feel economically secure. Many families like Patricia’s have been receiving monthly checks since July 2021, due to the American Rescue Plan’s temporary expansion of the CTC. These payments, however, will end on December 15, 2021, unless Congress takes action to extend it.
CSSP’s research is ongoing, and our interviews have underscored the intense stress that many families experience to afford the “basics” like purchasing school uniforms and putting food on the table. They have also highlighted how helpful the monthly distribution of the CTC has been in providing financial stability for their family and reducing their stress. This emerging theme in CSSP’s research aligns with national findings on the expanded CTC, including a recent national poll by the Center for Law and Social Policy and partners that found almost 70 percent of respondents reported that monthly CTC payments made them feel less stressed about money.
Patricia told CSSP that the monthly distribution has “tremendously” helped her to balance the family’s expenses with the reality of their budget: “[The CTC] doesn’t take the full pressure off, but it does take [some pressure] off of things… It’s like a domino effect to help me in more ways than one.” Ultimately, she explains, “it helps this whole family out, it helps me manage the family better.”
Patricia is an early childhood educator, but the pandemic caused her employer to close, putting Patricia out of work. She was recently hired by a new child care center, but worries that she won’t be able to find safe and reliable child care for her own children once she starts her new job. When the CTC began being paid out monthly in July, Patricia was automatically signed up to receive the credit and has received each of her payments since then.
According to Patricia—and others we have interviewed—one of the most powerful features of the revamped CTC is the reliability of the current monthly distribution. The CTC is delivered on the 15th of each month, and caregivers can budget around it. Patricia, along with other interviewees, expressed that permanently giving families the option to have their CTC delivered monthly would provide a greater sense of predictability and security.
“[With a continued monthly CTC,] I’d be able to direct deposit, I won’t have to worry about finding time to go to the bank or things like that,” said Patricia. “I can just have things on autopay or pay on that certain day of the month. Like right now [the Child Tax Credit] is the 15th, so I know okay, on the 15th I’ll pay this and that, I’ll pay on my son’s braces bill. There’s nothing like something being due and they’re calling you and you can’t pay them. But if you already have that set up, you don’t have to worry.”
Not only does a monthly CTC payment create breathing room to help cover the essentials, but it also creates opportunities to bring joy and enrichment to children and families.
“I can preplan things and know that I’m able to pay for it,” said Patricia. “There’s nothing like a big birthday coming up and try to plan something for your child but you don’t have the funds… I try to plan things around the time that they get the tax credit so I can right away go ahead and take care of this, take care of that, and don’t have to wait until the end of the month.”
And the reliability and flexibility of the monthly CTC payments helps caregivers worry less about money and can boost the emotional and social well-being of parents and the whole family.
“If Mommy’s stressed, the house is stressed,” Patricia explained. “Utilities, phone bills, and gas are things that you need, but sometimes, well, you know. This way [with the CTC], they all can eat and get paid. And [a permanent, monthly Child Tax Credit will] save me. You need better self-esteem as a mother, knowing that I provided for my children, they’re not out here wanting for anything.”
So far, CSSP’s research has shown that expanded, monthly Child Tax Credit payments are making a palpable difference in families’ lives. When families do better, their children do better, and we all do better—which is why the temporary expansion of the Child Tax Credit should be made permanent. Permanently expanding the CTC, while continuing to improve it so that it functions like a child allowance, would be lifechanging for families like Patricia’s.
Making the expanded, monthly CTC permanent “Would help out tenfold,” Patricia observed. “It’d help me be able to save for [my children] … I would love to be able to do things for my children and not have to worry.”
 All names of participants in CSSP’s research project have been assigned pseudonyms to protect anonymity and privacy.