West Virginia’s senior U.S. senator has suggested restricting a program sending families $250-$300 per month, per child — a move that could hamper education outcomes and reduce the number of children in the state receiving the benefit by more than half.
According to national news reports, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has suggested imposing work or education requirements, and a family income cutoff around $60,000, to continue qualifying for the enhanced Child Tax Credit. Originally implemented through previous COVID-19 relief legislation, this enhanced version increased the money families receive, the proportion of families receiving it and the speed at which they receive it.
Manchin’s office didn’t say this week what his current position is on the enhanced Child Tax Credit, which is part of ongoing negotiations over Democrats’ legislation to expand the social safety net and help address climate change.
Wednesday evening, HuffPost reported that congressional Democrats no longer expect having to add a work requirement for the tax credit, but they expect the legislation to extend the benefit for only one more year, instead of through 2025 or longer.
Thursday morning, President Joe Biden announced a “framework” that he said he is confident can pass both houses of Congress. It mentions only a one-year extension of the enhanced Child Tax Credit program, but doesn’t mention any work or education requirements.
Danny Sinclair, who was waiting at a school bus stop with two of his four children Thursday morning on Charleston’s East End, said he wants the enhanced Child Tax Credit extended longer than a year.
Even though he and his wife work at the nearby hospital and don’t collectively make more than $60,000, Sinclair said he also doesn’t want other families to get cut off by those restrictions Manchin has floated.
“You would expect him, being from West Virginia ... it’s like the top people don’t know what we’re going through down here,” Sinclair said.
“It’s like, what are y’all doing?” he said. “I mean, we have the House, we have the Senate, we have the presidency.”
Biden’s framework includes direct funding for education, including for expanding West Virginia’s 4-year-old universal pre-kindergarten program to all 3-year-olds.
But extending the enhanced Child Tax Credit program could improve West Virginia education more, in addition to helping families generally, by raising family income.
Research has consistently linked higher family income to higher student academic achievement. West Virginia’s highest standardized test scores are in counties like Monongalia and Putnam, not McDowell.
Of the West Virginia public high school sophomores in 2008 who were eating free or reduced-price lunch, a rough indicator they were low-income, only 14% earned a college degree or certificate within the next decade, according to the State Longitudinal Data System.
That’s compared to 40% of those who didn’t qualify for those meals.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities think tank has estimated that the expanded Child Tax Credit has temporarily lifted over 40% of children nationwide out of poverty. That’s 4.1 million children, according to the Washington, D.C.-based group.
“The lowest earners were not receiving a credit at all,” said Rhonda Rogombe, a health policy analyst at the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy, which is partly funded by the national group.
For the poorest families, Rogombe said, the Child Tax Credit expansion not only increased from $2,000 to $3,000 or $3,600 the amount per year, per child that families receive — it also makes all of that money “refundable,” meaning families can receive it even if they owe no income taxes.
And, instead of waiting for tax refund time to get this assistance, families are getting half the annual amount spread out through monthly payments.
It’s unclear how many fewer families would benefit under Manchin’s proposed changes.
The West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy estimates that implementing a $60,000 family income cap — Rogombe said the credit already phases out starting at higher incomes — would slash the number of West Virginia children who benefit from 327,000 to 137,000. The think tank said nonworking parents who are grandparents, in school or disabled would lose the assistance.
Sinclair, the father on the East End, said he wishes Manchin would more strongly support Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.
“Just build better, and go big or don’t go at all, that’s just my attitude,” Sinclair said. “You know, just take a shot.
“Coming from here ... Manchin, coming from here, I feel like he should be going extra, harder, to make his state better.”