The Child Tax Credit safeguarded U.S. families with children from food insufficiency during the pandemic and should be made permanent, researchers urged.
Starting in July and August 2021, the first advance payments of the expanded Child Tax Credit corresponded to a 26% decrease in food insufficiency in children’s households in subsequent weeks, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
Across surveyed households, food insufficiency decreased by 2.1%, from 11.7% just before the Child Tax Credit advance payment to 9.6% afterward. In households with children, this decline was even more pronounced: household food insufficiency dropped 4.4% after the first monthly payment from 14.3% to 9.9%, Paul Shafer, PhD, of the Boston University School of Public Health, and colleagues reported in JAMA Network Open.
As part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act passed in March 2021, monthly payments of $250-$300 from the Child Tax Credit were automatically issued to households with children, including households with little or no income.
“The [Credit’s] potential to dramatically reduce child poverty and buffer families against economic hardship is substantial,” Shafer’s team wrote.
The Child Tax Credit was “the closest thing that the United States has ever had to a child allowance, a universal public income guarantee to offset the costs of raising children,” said Heather Hill, PhD, MPP, and Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, MD, PhD, MPH, both of University of Washington, Seattle, in a corresponding editorial.
“[It] was not designed to address food insufficiency or health per se but to offset the substantial costs of providing children with high-quality housing, nutrition, education, and more,” according to the duo.
“More broadly, the study suggests that the production and promotion of health may be best achieved not by exclusively investing in programs and practices designed to address disease per se but also in broader economic and social policies that target its fundamental causes,” Hill and Rowhani-Rahbar wrote.
However, the Child Tax Credit policy expired at the end of 2021. The Build Back Better Act was supposed to extend the Child Tax Credit permanently, but has been stalled in Congress as Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has said that he will not support the legislation without the addition of a work requirement for parents.
“Congress could sustain and strengthen the program by making changes to the [Child Tax Credit] permanent and restoring eligibility for immigrant children,” Shafer and colleagues wrote. Alternative pathways to receiving these advanced payments for those who earn too little to be required to file tax returns should also be considered, they said.
Their cross-sectional, observational study analyzed data from more than half a million survey respondents from January to August 2021. Just over half of the respondents were female, and 62.5% were non-Hispanic white. One-third of respondents held a 4-year college degree.
After the first payment from the policy was made in late July 2021, two-thirds of survey participants said they received their Child Tax Credit payment. Such a payment was reported by 1% of households without children, which is possible due to custody changes or a child who recently aged out of eligibility.
Black and Hispanic individuals reported rates of food insufficiency higher than non-Hispanic White peers, Shafer and colleagues noted.
Among households with children, food insufficiency decreased the most among Hispanic respondents, from 22.3% prior to the payment to 12.3% after it. However, food insufficiency decreased the least among Black respondents — from 22.3% just before the first monthly payment to just 21.1%.
Study authors noted that food insufficiency was measured by one question on the survey that focuses on “the quantity and possibly quality of food intake.” It is different from food insecurity, which is a more comprehensive measure by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, they clarified.
The researchers cautioned that they were only able to analyze the first wave of advanced Child Tax Credit payments in their study. They also acknowledged that the response rate to the online survey was less than 10%, though they said that low response rates were typical for online surveys.
Lei Lei Wu is a staff writer for Medpage Today. She is based in New Jersey. Follow
Shafer reported grants from the Commonwealth Fund.
Rowhani-Rahbar reported grants from the CDC.