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DeLauro pushes to preserve poverty fix

Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro.
(Ryan Caron King/Connecticut Public)
Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro.

As Congress decides how to slim down a $3.5 trillion social-safety-net bill, Rosa DeLauro is working to ensure that an historic child tax credit makes the cut.

DeLauro, New Haven’s U.S. Congresswoman, made history this year when the tax credit — sending most families between $250-$300 a month per child —became law as part of the pandemic-relief American Rescue Plan. DeLauro had led the charge for passage of the tax credit for 18 years.

It took effect in July. It promptly slashed child poverty faster than any other effort in U.S. history: Child poverty declined from 15.8 percent to 11.9 in the first month, according to a Columbia University study. And the percentage of families with children who reported not having enough food within the past week dropped from 13.7 to 9.5 percent.

In other words, millions of children instantly had enough to eat, and their parents could pay the rent.

But the tax credit took effect for just one year.

DeLauro is now trying to make it “permanent” — or at least last a while.

Democratic Party drafters included an extension of the tax credit in the 2,465-page proposed $3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” budget reconciliation/bill now before Congress. The 2,465 bill, a centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s agenda, contains a 10-year plan to expand the safety net and address climate change.

But now the bill is set to shrink by as much as half, if it passes at all. That’s because the Democratic Party couldn’t muster enough votes to preserve its slim Congressional majority to approve. Now negotiations are on for what measures will survive the whittling. Child care will compete with expanded Medicare will compete will climate change will compete with free community college will compete with paid family leave for dollars.

“It’s going to pass,” DeLauro declared about the overall bill during an appearance Tuesday on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven” program.

And an extension of the child tax credit, through 2025, will pass along with it, she vowed. “The president believes in it,” she said, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is committed as well.

She also argued that rather than choosing some options over others, Congress can adjust the price tag of individual items.

The challenge at this point isn’t as much convincing skeptics that a child tax credit is worthwhile — but rather that it’s enough of a priority. “There is an indifference” to child poverty, DeLauro observed.

DeLauro is focused on keeping Democrats on board in the House of Representatives, where this term she ascended to the powerful post of Appropriations Committee chair. A potentially more challenging sell may be in the Senate: conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, whose single vote could kill the measure, has called for the tax credit to cover fewer households, just those considered working poor; and to come with work requirements.

DeLauro argued that the tax credit should cover middle class families in full as well. Broadening the base offers needed help to more families and builds popular support, as occurred with social security, she argued.

She argued that a work requirement creates a Catch-22: Parents can’t afford child care, and therefore can’t take a job; then they and their children may go hungry or face eviction because they don’t have a job.

“The pandemic really raised this issue: Women, en masse, were out of the work force, because there was no child care and paid family leave,” DeLauro said.

“It’s an awful debate to think that ‘people don’t want to work.’ That is not the case. People take pride in what they do.”

She argued that stay-at-home single moms — and grandparents, the primary caregivers of 5.8 million children, according to the 2020 census — need the help of a tax credit as much anyone.

“I have seen the reports” on how families so far are spending their tax credits, DeLauro said. “It is food. It is diapers. It is going to the dentist, getting a kid to the doctor.. Buy school uniforms or supplies. Or paying rent. It has made a profound difference already, which is why I’m trying to move it to be permanent.”

DeLauro argued that the tax credits end up saving the country money: “Every dollar spent on relieveing child poverty” saves $8 in related costs.

She said she is on the phone daily with colleagues and the White House to preserve the credit in the current bill. She follows a motto she learned earlier in her political career: “Never give up, and don’t take no for an answer.”

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