That didn’t happen. Polls found the public roughly divided over whether the program should be extended, with opinions splitting along partisan and generational lines. And the expanded tax credit failed to win over the individual whose opinion mattered most: Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, who cited concerns over the cost and structure of the program in his decision to oppose Mr. Biden’s climate, tax and social policy bill. The bill, known as the Build Back Better Act, cannot proceed in the evenly divided Senate without Mr. Manchin’s support.
To supporters of the child benefit, the failure to extend it is especially frustrating because, according to most analyses, the program itself has been a remarkable success. Researchers at Columbia University estimate that the payments kept 3.8 million children out of poverty in November, a nearly 30 percent reduction in the child poverty rate. Other studies have found that the benefit reduced hunger, lowered financial stress among recipients and increased overall consumer spending, especially in rural states that received the most money per capita.
Congress last spring expanded the existing child tax credit in three ways. First, it made the benefit more generous, providing as much as $3,600 per child, up from $2,000. Second, it began paying the credit in monthly installments, usually deposited directly into recipients’ bank accounts, turning the once-yearly windfall into something closer to the children’s allowances common in Europe.
Finally, the bill made the full benefit available to millions who had previously been unable to take full advantage of the credit because they earned too little to qualify. Poverty experts say that change, known in tax jargon as “full refundability,” was particularly significant because without it, a third of children — including half of all Black and Hispanic children, and 70 percent of children being raised by single mothers — did not receive the full credit. Mr. Biden’s plan would have made that provision permanent.
“What we’ve seen with the child tax credit is a policy success story that was unfolding, but it’s a success story that we risk stoping in its tracks just as it was getting started,” said Megan Curran, director of policy at Columbia’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy. “The weight of the evidence is clear here in terms of what the policy is doing. It’s reducing child poverty and food insufficiency.”
But the expanded tax credit doesn’t just go to the poor. Couples earning as much as $150,000 a year could receive the full $3,600 benefit — $3,000 for children 6 and older — and even wealthier families qualify for the original $2,000 credit. Critics of the policy, including Mr. Manchin, have argued that it makes little sense to provide aid to relatively well-off families. Many supporters of the credit say they’d happily limit its availability to wealthier households in return for maintaining it for poorer ones.
Mr. Manchin has also publicly questioned the wisdom of unconditional cash payments, and has privately voiced concerns that recipients could spend the money on opioids, comments that were first reported by The Wall Street Journal and confirmed by a person familiar with the discussion. But a survey conducted by the Census Bureau found that most recipients used the money to buy food, clothing or other necessities, and many saved some of the money or paid down debt. Other surveys have found similar results.