Robbing Peter to pay Paul

I am having déjà vu, thinking back to last summer, when SNAP (food stamps) was put on the table to pay for emergency funds to states for healthcare and education (FMAP). At the time, we were appalled by the proposed offset, but also knew that once it was on the table, it was up for grabs. If we didn’t at least use it for something else we cared about, who knew what it would end up paying for.

The newest offset to make us feel ill is the House Republican proposal to eliminate eligibility for immigrant families claiming the Child Tax Credit (CTC and ACTC). This is being proposed as a way to offset the cost of extending the payroll tax and unemployment insurance (UI).

While it is politically easier to propose an offset that would impact a population which already carries negative associations and stereotypes, someone needs to set the record straight. Of the 5.5 million children of immigrants living with at least one undocumented parent, 4.5 million are U.S. citizens
and more than half live in low-income families (First Focus). There goes the rumor that the majority of these families are undocumented, and assumed to be abusing the system in some way.

In fact, children of immigrants now comprise roughly one quarter of the nation’s child population, and are more likely to live in poverty than are children of native-born parents (First Focus). Anyone who has children can tell you how expensive they are. Worth every penny of course, but when a baby born in 2009 will cost a middle class family $286,050 by the time the child reaches 18 years of age (USDA), low-income families need our support.

The very credits that are now on the chopping block are the only credits which explicitly address the high cost of raising children, which translates to a higher percentage for low-income families. While families at all income level spend the highest percentage of their income directly on their children, lower-income families spend 25% of their before-tax income on a child; middle-income families spend 16%; and upper-income families spend 12% (USDA).

Studies reveal that an increase of as little as $1000 in family income has been shown to improve children’s test scores by 2% in math and more than 3.5% in reading. When families receive the refundable credit, that raises their effective income (or income that can now be spent on anything, like gas to get them to work, that previously went to pay for the diapers or other high costs incurred when raising a child).

While we need to extend the payroll tax and UI benefits, this is not the way to pay for it. House members need to know how using this offset would hurt families at home, and that no child should have to suffer for someone else to benefit. Congress could learn a lot from watching how well Peter and Paul can play together in the sandbox.

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