How to Change the World – And Lift 6 Million Children Out of Poverty

By Shlomo Maital  

Representative Rosa DeLauro

   How do you change the world?  Specifically – how do you lift 6 million children out of poverty, in the US  (out of 12 million poor kids?   

   With money, of course.  Under the American Rescue Plan, passed by Congress in March, the child tax credit will give parents with two kids $600/month for six months, then they’ll get a $3,600 refund when they file taxes next year. 

The federal child tax credit (CTC) is a partially refundable credit that allows low- and moderate-income families to reduce their tax liability dollar-for-dollar by up to $2,000 for each qualifying child.      

How did this happen?

First – it could not happen under Trump. The Trump tax cut of 2017 cost an estimated $2.3 trillion (over 10 years) and redistributed income from middle-income to top-income.

 Second:  it happened because of Rosa DeLauro – whom I had never heard of until lately.[1]

  Rosa’s mother was a garment worker, who worked hard in a sweatshop.  Her father sold insurance.  They were very poor. One day she came home from school, age 10,  and found “all our furniture out on the street”.   But DeLauro studied hard,  went to the London School of Economics, and entered politics.  She won a House of Representatives seat in Connecticut (New Haven district, a district with many poor children).  She began promoting the CTC Child Tax Credit in 2003.  But George Bush was President, and the Republicans controlled the House.  Nonetheless, she got the CTC on the agenda, and for years in the political wilderness kept pushing the idea.  She did not meet real opposition – who can oppose lifting kids out of hunger and poverty? —  but worse than that, indifference.  Republicans didn’t care. Poor kids? They’re not our voters. 

    After Biden became the Democratic candidate for the 2020 election, she enlisted Chris Dodd, former long-time powerful Connecticut Senator.  She built a team of legislators – Cory Booker (NJ), and Michael Bennet and Sherrod Brown (Senators); and Suzan DelBene and Ritchie Torres, in the House. 

    The CTC expansion was not in the original American Rescue Plan bill.  But DeLauro called Jared Bernstein (Biden economic advisor), Ron Klain (his eventual Chief of Staff), and others.  “The moment is now!” she said.  And very soon after that call – her CTC plan was “in” – in the Bill!

    But there is one another person involved.  Again, you’ve never heard of her.  Sophie Collyer is a Research Director at the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University.   Her research focuses on anti-poverty policies at the national and local levels, with a particular interest in child allowances, federal and local minimum wage policy, and housing policy.  Her current work looks at the impacts of reforms to the Child Tax Credit.

    Rep. DeLauro credits Sophie with supplying the artight, irrefutable scientific evidence that the CTC would indeed help poor families, and lift millions of kids out of poverty.  Policy is, despite QAnon, Trump, Fake News, FoxNews, and Mitch McConnell,  still partly driven by evidence-based legislation.  And DeLauro had the evidence.  Thanks to Sophie. 

    So —  how to change the world?  Dogged persistence.  Study (LSE is a great school).  Politics.  Persistence.  Life experience (DeLauro knew poverty firsthand, and when she spoke about child poverty, she spoke first-hand, when she was 10).   And data/evidence.

  But the story is only half complete. The CTC provision expires at the end of this year.  There is an intention to make it permanent – or at least, extend it for five years.  The Democrats can do it, with their slim 50-50 plus VP Harris tie-breaker in the Senate. (Spending bills are not subject to the Republican filibuster).   

   Why in the world should a provision that feeds hungry kids be controversial?  Why should 50 Republicans vote against it, against feeding and clothing kids? 

    Ask the arch-autocrat, Trump.  And friends, he will run again in 2024.  Rosie DeLauro?  Or The Donald?      

[1]  See Michael Tomasky,  “This is an important week:  Thank Rosa DeLauro”.  New Republic,   July 12, 2021.