“There was always something hanging over my head,” Wood said. “It’s about putting out the fire closest to you.”
But on January 15, no money came for Wood or 35 million other families nationwide. Extensive and brief federal child aid experience – extending child tax credit up to $300 for each child under 5, $250 for those between 5 and 17 – ended abruptly. And efforts to expand it failed when President Biden’s Build Back Better Act failed in the Senate.
Created as part of the $1.9 trillion US bailout relief bill, the funds were once touted as a tool for upward mobility. “This would be the largest single-year decline in child poverty in the history of the United States of America,” Biden said in July.
And it was.
For the first time, the credit reached low-income and no-income families who were previously ineligible because they did not earn enough to owe income taxes, said Alison Bovell-Ammon of Children’s HealthWatch, a Boston-based public health network that tracks the impact of legislation.
About 1 million Massachusetts children benefited from the payments and 160,000 children were brought near or above the poverty line. Food insecurity of households with children decreased by 26%, according to a recent study.
The credit illustrates something the government should have already known, Bovell-Ammon said.
“Reducing child poverty is good policy,” she added. “Investing in our children is essential to the well-being of our workforce and generations to come.”
He is now caught in a political tussle, even as COVID cases have risen rapidly, classrooms and daycares are running out of staff and inflation is soaring.
And so for millions of families like the Woodses, that means their little relief from the messy tangle of day-to-day expenses is gone.
When Charlie was born in 2012 in Northern Virginia, she was micro-preemie: 790 grams, or less than 2 pounds. At 10 days, she measured the length of her mother’s finger. Her body was so small that doctors used a piece of stringy gauze as a diaper.
She’s become a “typical kid,” said Wood, a person who loves makeup, singing and horses. But even in third grade, she needs expensive medical care: occupational therapy and speech therapy, equipment for cerebral palsy, and specialists in rehabilitation medicine, neurology, and orthopaedics.
“She came in early and that changed everything,” Wood said. It “crushed financially” her and her ex-husband.
In the early years, Wood prioritized Charlie’s health care over his own. A delayed root canal became infected, damaging his teeth and part of his jawbone. In 2018, Wood developed lupus, an inflammatory disease where the body attacks its own tissues.
Endless medical bills weighed on Wood’s income. Before the pandemic, she worked for Mass-Care, a healthcare advocacy group in Boston. Between the $2,400 monthly rent on his old Revere apartment, student loans, medical debt, and Charlie’s school lunch, his modest salary was stretched.
Then COVID hit. Wood was furloughed by Mass-Care and unable to take another in-person job because she lacked childcare.
“I would have done anything,” Wood said. “I would have checked the grocery store, even if it was high risk. But I couldn’t. I had a child at home. »
They fell back on government programs, including EBT and expanding pandemic unemployment. A non-profit organization in Revere provided him with fresh meals. Last summer, Wood moved in with his partner in Acton, a move that cut his housing costs in half. Today, her income comes from freelance writing and research.
When the child tax credit started in July, it seemed like a boost. An additional $100 for rent. Another meal for Charlie. A copay for Wood’s hematology appointments.
“I would say it came too late,” she said. “But it’s helped me tremendously so far – now that we don’t have it anymore.”
As its year-end expiration date approached, a host of politicians voiced support for the credit extension. Senator Ed Markey is a champion of the movement, often repeating a rallying call with advocates: “Parenting is work.”
“We are seeing the real-time, real-world impacts of this program on every community,” he said at a news conference in November.
Families used credit extensively to pay debts, food, mortgages and rent, a Census Bureau study found in October. When classes started in September, the money went towards school-related expenses. For children under 5, a significant portion is directed towards childcare.
But critics, including Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, worry the program will deter parents from working and point to its costly price tag, especially since – as originally structured anyway – the vast majority of American families qualify for the ‘silver.
Polls found that voters are also divided on extending the measure. According to Politico and Morning Consult, keeping the credit for another year is supported by 47% of people, but 42% oppose it.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Biden announced plans to split Build Back Better to save more of its climate legislation. Reducing the child tax credit and paid family leave measures could make the bill attractive to more members of Congress.
“I think we can split the pack, get as much as we can now and come back and fight for the rest,” Biden said.
Wood knows there are families less fortunate than his: those who live from wage to wage, who survive on minimum wage.
They desperately needed the program, she said.
She and Charlie could use it too. Wood wants to go to law school one day. It would be better to control your debt, which increases with each new medical expense.
His free time is spent advocating for universal health care, free school meals, and the cancellation of student debt. This fall, Wood sat in a kayak outside Manchin’s barge with a sign saying “Don’t Sink Our Health Care”.
Day-to-day, his job is “to survive,” Wood said. The credit allowed more than that.
Just weeks after landing in his bank account for the last time, Wood contracted COVID. She is fully vaccinated and boosted, but at high risk with four comorbidities. The virus caused her asthma to flare up and prompted her to schedule several virtual appointments with her doctor.
“I was able to self-quarantine, my doctor is vigilant about my care, and I can manage my free time,” she said. tweeted.
But Wood can’t help but think about what the $250 could have done to him now — or the host of families in a similar situation.
“I could have used it this month,” she texted a Globe reporter. “For the tests, the masks, and now my meds and doctor visits are co-paying.”
The other expenses will just have to wait.