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'I'm not sure what we'll do if it doesn't continue:' Virginia families receive last scheduled child tax credit payment

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Lindsay Mummert, a single mother of two, teared up when she talked about how she lost custody of her son during the pandemic because she couldn’t afford rent.

She lost her income when the child care facility where she worked had to shut down. She lost her car. She had to sign custody of her son over to her mom because she didn’t have a safe place for him to stay.

“The child tax credit helped me pay rent, and I was able to get my son back. It brought my family back together,” the Caroline County mother said, wiping away tears from her face.

The expanded child tax credit program expires today.

Starting in July, about 35 million eligible families began receiving the expanded child tax credit. Parents received monthly payments of $300 for each child age 5 and younger and $250 for those between 5 and 17. The expanded child tax credit was part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that passed in March.

But today could be the last payment for parents like Mummert, unless the U.S. Senate passes the Build Back Better Act by Dec. 28, which will extend the program for another year. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in November.

The program has helped 937,000 Virginia families put food on the table, cover housing costs and pay down debt, according to a study from Washington University in St. Louis.

According to the study, which drew on census data, 51% of families used the child tax credit to purchase food for the family, 34% used it to manage bills and 29% used it to pay their rent or mortgage.

More data from the study revealed that 37% of Virginia families used the child tax credit to pay down debt, while 32% spent it, and 31% saved it.

Abbey Conley of Henrico County, mother of a 4-year-old son with autism, has been using the child tax credit to pay for higher grocery bills, electricity bills, and getting her son back into preschool and into a soccer program to help his socialization — something he sorely missed during the shutdown.

Conley lost her job at the start of the pandemic after her son’s child care closed. She has been looking for a part-time job that will coincide with her son’s preschool hours — from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. — but hasn’t been able to find anything yet.

The Conleys have also used the child tax credit to pay for puzzles and speech therapy games, as well as school supplies such as a backpack, clothes and snacks. “Every time I go to the grocery store, the prices go up,” she added.

“Things were very tight for my family at the beginning of the pandemic,” Conley said. “The tax credit has been big for my family. To have that dependable amount of money [coming every month] helped control things. I’m not sure what we’re going to do if it doesn’t continue.”

Shaneka Charles sounded defeated when she talked about the child tax credit expiring. She has been using it to send her almost 2-year-old daughter, Iyla, to child care when she returned to work in the nutrition department with Richmond Public Schools in the fall.

But it’s been bumpy having her daughter in child care. Iyla gets sick often, and “my job is not being very understanding,” Charles said. “They don’t care if our kids get sick. We still have to go to work or we’ll get fired.”

Charles said she’s not sure what she will do without the monthly help from the child tax credit. “We’re trying to survive with inflation. I don’t have much to give my daughter for Christmas,” she said.

According to the study from Washington University, 74% of Black Virginia families received the child tax credit, while 72% of Asian families received the benefit, followed by 70% of white families. Fewer than half of Hispanic families in Virginia received the credit.

Married couples filing jointly who earned up to $150,000 qualified for the child tax credit, as did a person filing as head of household who made up to $112,500, or a single filer who made up to $75,000.

Some families with four kids, for example, received up to $1,200 a month with the expanded child tax credit. The expanded child tax credit was also extended to nonfilers. The plan increased the child tax credit to $3,600 per child under the age of 6 and $3,000 per child ages 6 to 17. The previous tax credit per child was $2,000.

Dispersing the funds on a monthly basis, instead of a lump sum at tax time, was aimed to help families pay for child-related expenses on a monthly basis.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney held a news conference on Tuesday to call on Congress to extend the federal child tax credit for another year.

“Everyone should have the means to care for their families. The CTC ensures that our country’s economic recovery is felt by everyone,” Stoney said.

He said that the child tax credit has helped end poverty for 96,000 Virginia children. “Parents are encouraged to go back to work knowing that monthly payments are coming to help foot the bill for child care and prepare for any family emergency. … We need Congress to act today.”

The expanded child tax credit has gained support with many Democratic leaders in Virginia.

“The American Rescue Plan has done tremendous good for working families by expanding the Child Tax Credit,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said in a statement. “Now, as this expansion is set to expire at the end of 2021, I’m working tirelessly to extend these tax cuts to help more families and children in Virginia and across the nation.”

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., added, “The Child Tax Credit is a transformative investment that has helped families afford essentials like food and health care. The Senate must extend it.”

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Twitter: @collcurran


Colleen Curran is the living editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. She also covers arts and entertainment, pop culture and social media.

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