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Elizabeth Adams column: Child tax credit expansion is an unparalleled opportunity to improve child nutrition
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Child tax credit

Elizabeth Adams column: Child tax credit expansion is an unparalleled opportunity to improve child nutrition

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We are embarking on a historic policy change that will provide economic support to millions of families.

Under President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, the expanded child tax credit will provide fully refundable monthly payments — up to $300 per child — through the end of 2021.

These changes are far from trivial; millions of children will be lifted out of poverty, and years of systematic inequalities that excluded the lowest earning families will be reversed. As a result, this presents the likelihood that the expanded child tax credit also will provide immense opportunities for improving children’s health and nutrition.

Imagine a single mother who is working multiple jobs to support her three children younger than age 6. She strives each day to provide enough food for her family, living paycheck to paycheck and longing for a day when she can provide sufficient nutrient-rich foods her children to grow and thrive.

Over the next six months, this family — and the millions like them — will begin to receive the economic support they need. For this mother, this means an additional $900 each month, an amount that surely will be life-changing.

One of the most notable aspects of the child tax credit expansion is the expected benefits to reducing child poverty. Despite being one of the wealthiest nations in the world, U.S. poverty rates are one of the highest for developed countries.

More than 10 million children live in poverty and 27 million children live in households earning less than 200% of the federal poverty line. Children living in lower-income households often experience food insecurity — defined as a lack of enough food to lead an active and healthy lifestyle.

In 2019, 1 in 7 U.S. children lived in food-insecure households, and rates only are growing as a result of COVID-19.

Families with food insecurity experience substantial economic barriers that restrict access to enough food — let alone healthy foods. These financial barriers limit children’s opportunities to consume nutrient-rich diets, filled with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that are necessary for healthy growth and development.

Lower household income consistently is linked with lower diet quality, notably due to the greater costs of purchasing and accessing healthful foods. As a result, lower diet quality can increase risk for many chronic diseases, such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Minority populations carry an even greater burden of these chronic diseases as a direct result of systemic inequities and structural racism.

The expanded child tax credit will provide income support that is expected to benefit 66 million children and slash U.S. poverty rates in half. The fully reimbursable nature will reverse prior regulations that disproportionately excluded minority families from receiving the full amount, so that all families, regardless of income level, will receive the full benefit.

The power of impact this cannot be overstated. This increased financial support carries tremendous potential for improving the health and nutrition for millions of children, particularly those from minority groups.

These monthly payments will increase opportunities for food-insecure families to afford enough food and could cease cyclical patterns of children going hungry with food running out before the end of the month.

For some families, this increased tax credit might allow them to purchase more nutritious foods for their children that previously were unaffordable. Alongside other recent policy changes bolstering our nutritional safety net, our nation is making tremendous strides toward reducing the economic barriers to accessing enough healthy foods.

These changes — if sustained — have the potential to reverse decades of deeply rooted health inequalities.

Yet, the question remains — how long will this child tax credit expansion last? The monthly payments are set to end at the close of 2021, yet we can’t make temporary fixes for long-lasting issues.

Child poverty, nutritional insecurity and racial heath inequalities have persisted for far too long. Biden’s American Families Plan proposes a four-year extension of the child tax credit through 2025, while some Democrats in Congress are calling for a permanent extension.

This decision has yet to reach bipartisan support; therefore, as these policy decisions are discussed, we must remember this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to impact the future of our nation’s youth. Every child deserves a healthy future. Let’s stand together for policies that reflect this.

Elizabeth Adams, Ph.D., is an expert in child nutrition and a postdoctoral researcher in the department of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. Contact her at: elizabeth.adams@vcuhealth.org

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