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Sandra Steiner Ball

Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball heads the United Methodists in the Mountain State.

The opportunity to greatly reduce child poverty comes but once or twice in a generation. For this reason, the West Virginia Council of Churches urges Congress to support extending the expanded child tax credit, especially the feature that ensures all eligible poor children receive it.

Doing so puts children first, cuts child hunger and poverty, and helps families give their children a strong start in life.

The expanded child tax credit is one of the most effective anti-poverty programs in recent years, providing families in need with $3,600 for every child in the household under the age of 6 and $3,000 for every child between the ages of 6 and 17. The expanded child tax credit helps 302,000 (84%) of West Virginia’s children.

By making the full child credit available to the lowest-income families — just like for the middle class — the children and families who need the most help can get it. And distributing the tax credit in monthly payments helps families make ends meet every month.

Evidence shows that the vast majority of families receiving the credit are working. Many others who claim the credit are parents in between jobs or are retired grandparents caring for their grandchildren or parents, who are unable to work because of an illness or have very young children.

Denying the credit to children whose parents or caretakers are not working would be harmful to those children who need this the most and dramatically weaken the anti-poverty effect of this policy.

Our congregations see these families and hear their stories, the fears and concerns, at our worship services and mission sites.

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Children are at the heart of many local congregations’ educational, worship and outreach ministries. We see children in our Sunday schools, at our vacation Bible schools and during children’s moments in worship. We see children in our outreach ministries, our food pantries and clothing closets.

We are privileged to journey with these children as they grow from infants to adults. We come alongside them and their families in the triumphs and struggles, remembering the words of Jesus: “It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:14).

West Virginia has one of the highest child hunger and poverty rates in the country. Families across the state get squeezed by high prices on everything from food to rent to child care. These are the basic needs upon which families are spending their child credit. Because of the expanded child tax credit, hunger among families with children in our state has already been cut by 25%. Extending it will cut child poverty in our state nearly in half.

While most families in the state can benefit from the child credit, families in rural areas benefit the most, with 94%, or about 134,000 children, receiving the credit.

However, many of these gains for children could be reversed in a few months, unless Congress acts. Our generation, and this Congress, have the opportunity to take long-overdue steps to reduce child poverty, by permanently extending the refundable part of this legislation. In doing so, poor children would be better enabled to receive this critical assistance.

Our generation must care for and bless the next.

Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball is president of the West Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, West Virginia Council of Churches.

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