Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has doubled down on calling for parents to work for the expanded child tax credit benefit, echoing Republican talking points and throwing a wrench into a central component of his own party’s policy agenda.
American families are receiving monthly checks for as much as $300 per child through the end of this year, thanks to Democrats’ American Rescue Plan, which temporarily expanded the child tax credit. Democrats have also arranged it so that all American families with incomes up to $400,000, including those that don’t make enough money to pay taxes at all, can receive the benefit.
The measure has been hailed as one of the most consequential anti-poverty policies enacted in decades, and is estimated to do a great deal to cut child poverty in the United States. Children have long suffered the highest rates of poverty in the U.S.
Democrats want to make this expanded benefit permanent ― or at least extend it for several more years in their upcoming package of bills aimed at addressing a host of agenda items, like child care, pre-K, health care and climate change proposals.
But Manchin, who voted in favor of the tax credit’s expansion in the American Rescue Plan, has recently begun speaking out against the policy, calling for it to carry work requirements.
On Tuesday, Manchin was dismissive when asked by HuffPost to expand on what kind of work requirements he’d like added to the benefit, saying they were “self-explanatory.”
Manchin later told Business Insider he feels “very strongly” about the need for limitations on the tax credit, saying that parents without any income or job should not qualify for the financial assistance.
“Tax credits are based around people that have tax liabilities,” Manchin said. “I’m even willing to go as long as they have a W-2 and showing they’re working.”
Over the weekend, Manchin appeared on CNN asking why the new child tax credit doesn’t have any kind of work or education requirement for parents.
“There’s no education requirements whatsoever, for better skill sets,” he said. “Don’t you think, if we’re going to help the children, that the people should make some effort?”
Manchin’s comments echo what some Republicans have said about the expanded child tax credit. In 2017, Republicans doubled the child tax credit in their 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to $2,000 a year through 2025, but they limited how much of the credit could go toward increasing a family’s cash refund. In other words, parents had to have some kind of taxable income to receive the credit.
Democrats changed that, using the child tax credit as a vehicle to expand the social safety net for poor parents. By making the tax credit fully refundable, they have created a direct-cash benefit of up to $3,600 per child, even for people who don’t make enough money to actually file taxes.
Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), who fought for Republicans’ 2017 expansion, made the exact critique in February ― when Democrats first proposed their own expanded benefit ― that Manchin is making now.
“An essential part of being pro-family is being pro-work,” Rubio and Lee said in a joint statement about Democrats’ policy in February. “Congress should expand the Child Tax Credit without undercutting the responsibility of parents to work to provide for their families.”
But notably, since the child tax credit has passed, Republicans have been fairly quiet about it. While they don’t support the policy, they haven’t turned it into a major attack line against the Democrats’ agenda. And at least one Republican, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), has actually proposed an even more generous monthly child allowance ― though he has also proposed shuttering some other welfare programs, like Temporary Assistance For Needy Families, in exchange.
The Biden administration has championed the expanded child tax credit as a centerpiece of its agenda. President Joe Biden has called for making the policy permanent and proposed an extension of the credit through 2025.
Senate Democrats aren’t heeding Manchin’s demands on this issue quite yet.
“I think that raising children is work,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who was one of the champions of the expanded child tax credit, said in response to Manchin’s comments. Brown was adamant that there remains widespread consensus among Democrats that this policy should be expanded as is.
A spokesperson for Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), an early adopter of this expanded child tax credit, said the senator “believes punishing the poorest children in America because their family’s income is too low to qualify them for the CTC is self-defeating and incredibly compromising to them and to our nation’s future.”
“Study after study shows work requirements don’t work,” Bennet’s spokesperson went on. “Depriving families of economic security, food, and shelter won’t help them find a job faster. In fact, countries with a child credit have a higher workforce participation rate than the United States.”
Many social programs, like TANF, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the earned income tax credit and unemployment insurance, have some kind of work requirement built in. Democrats’ move away from that, with this version of the child tax credit, was seen as a major breakthrough in the fight against poverty.
It also made the program much simpler, said Joshua McCabe, a sociologist and senior fellow at the Niskanen Center who has studied child tax credits and child allowances internationally.
“Adding work requirements to the child tax credit would cancel out many of the positive aspects that came along with making it fully refundable and shifting to monthly payments in the first place,” McCabe said. “I can’t imagine what kind of administrative infrastructure and administrative burdens would arise in order to keep track of millions of families in real time as they transition between jobs and types of employment.”
“It would be a major step backwards for U.S. family policy,” McCabe added.
Already, family policy advocates have organized West Virginia parents to protest outside Manchin’s state office this week against work requirements.
“Stay at home parents, parents who are sick, parents who are unable to work, and parents with less education deserve dignity and respect, as well as the ability to raise their children like everyone else,” Justin Ruben, with ParentsTogether Action, said in a statement. “To imply that they make less of an effort, as Senator Manchin did, is horribly misdirected and condescending.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who as chair of the Senate budget committee is playing a central role crafting Democrats’ next major bill, acknowledged that nothing has been finalized. As far as he’s concerned, Manchin’s newfound complaints about the child tax credit are only one of many issues that still have to be resolved.
“There are many people who have many many different issues, so it’s not just Mr. Manchin. It’s many people who have disagreements on different aspects,” Sanders said. “There are people who believe in universality, and there are people who have different approaches.”
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