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I think most people can agree that it’s been a tough year, but it hasn’t been all bad. We’re in the middle of the fastest drop in child poverty in the nation’s history, thanks largely to the expanded child tax credit that went into effect on July 15.

Around 346,000 West Virginia children have benefited from the credit.

According to the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, “The fourth monthly payment of the expanded child tax credit kept 3.6 million children from poverty in October 2021. The child tax credit reached 61.1 million children in October and, on its own, contributed to a 4.9 percentage point (28%) reduction in child poverty compared to what the monthly poverty rate in October would have been in its absence.”

That’s pretty major, and the numbers they’ve been tracking have been getting better month by month since it went into effect in July of this year. Given the chance, they’ll just keep getting better.

Contrary to fears that the child tax credit would discourage employment, the U.S. jobless rate is at a 21-month low, while Gov. Jim Justice announced in October that the West Virginia unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted) was 3.2%, the lowest on record.

That shouldn’t be a surprise, if you think about it. The boost in monthly income is helping people stay in the workforce while looking after the needs of children.

Recently, I’ve been part of an effort to collect and share stories from West Virginia families about what they’re doing with the child tax credit. Here’s a sample, in no particular order, of how people are using it to improve their lives:

Stories you might like

  • Paying for braces for kids.
  • New clothing and shoes for kids.
  • Paying off bills.
  • Buying food.
  • Winter heating.
  • Car payments and insurance.
  • Paying kids’ medical bills
  • Fixing water problems.
  • Buying a new toilet.
  • Purchasing better internet access.
  • Buying school supplies.
  • Moving to a better and safer home.
  • Visiting family members not seen in years.
  • Paying mortgages, utilities and preventing cutoffs.
  • Buying household supplies.
  • Extracurricular activities for kids, like sports, camps and cheerleading.

No doubt, it’s going to make Christmas a little brighter for many families here and around the country.

Unfortunately, all those benefits could die this month, unless Congress passes legislation to extend it without restrictions that would cut off those who need it most.

Given the holiday timing, I can’t help thinking about the comments of pre-repentance Scrooge in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” When reminded of the needs of the poor at this time of year, he asks “Are there no prisons? ... And the Union workhouses? Are they still in operation?” referring to the miserable shelters indigent people were sent to at that time.

When he was told that many poor families would rather die than go to such places, he says “If they would rather die ... they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

(I would like to think we’ve made a little progress in mercy, compassion and social policy since Dickens penned those words in 1843.)

In the end, even Scrooge experienced a change of heart at this time of year and did the right thing. I hope something similar happens in the U.S. Senate. With a little help from West Virginia.

Rick Wilson works for the American Friends Service Committee and is a Gazette-Mail contributing columnist.

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