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After six months of aid, El Paso families enter their first month without child tax credit payments

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The last two years have been full of worries for Yvette Pierce. Five of her family members fell ill with COVID-19, her husband’s job cut his hours and for a month Pierce’s toddler, who has Down syndrome and is medically high-risk, was in and out of the hospital.

Starting in July, an $850 monthly deposit to her husband’s bank account helped ease some of that worry.

Those monthly child tax credits helped Pierce, a stay-at-home mom who lives in West El Paso, buy winter clothes for her three sons, pay the phone bill and catch up on rent. When her anxiety became too much to bear with her son’s hospitalization, the extra income helped Pierce, who was uninsured, pay for the cost of a doctor’s visit and medication to care for her mental health.

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Last March, the American Rescue Plan temporarily increased the amount of child tax credits for families like the Pierces, boosting overall annual payments from $2,000 up to $3,600 per child.

But the last of those $850 child tax credit payments arrived on Dec. 15. With it, Pierce bought each of the boys nicer-than-usual toys for Christmas.

“We’ve always had a good Christmas, but with COVID and then not being around family as much, we’re just really trying to lessen (my kids’) worry and let them know that everything’s going to be OK,” she said.

Yvette Pierce peels an orange for her son, Nolan, 2. Pierce said that during the months her family received child tax credits, she and her husband were finally able to catch up with past bills and start saving some money, a goal that she believes is especially important for providing for Nolan’s future care. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

The tax credits have helped El Paso families like the Pierces by offsetting the cost of basic necessities, Leila Melendez, CEO of Workforce Solutions Borderplex, said in an email to El Paso Matters. “(They’re) helping families find work, commute to and from work, buy enough and better groceries, make household purchases at retailers (who hire workers, too), and afford child care while going to work, and hopefully seeking medical care.”

Parents could opt to receive these credits all at once or split them into monthly increments.

Pierce chose the monthly option because it helped her budget more effectively, she said.

The ARP also allowed impoverished families to receive those payments for the first time.

“Expanding the child tax credit (to lower income families) was one of the most important steps our nation has taken in eliminating child poverty,” Sylvia Acosta, CEO of the YWCA Paso del Norte region, said in a statement.

Nationwide, the credits held the potential to cut child poverty in half, according to estimates from Columbia University’s Center on Child and Social Policy.

About one in five children — or nearly 50,000 kids below the age of 18 — live below the poverty line in El Paso, according to 2020 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program. The new tax policy was expected to lift about 16,000 children from poverty in Texas’ 16th Congressional District, which includes most of El Paso, according to a study commissioned by the House Appropriations Committee.

Congressional Democrats had hoped to permanently extend the tax credits by passing President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act. But Senate Republicans unanimously opposed the bill, and to overcome that opposition, Democrats needed the support of all 50 Senate Democrats. Their attempts to pass the bill were stymied last month by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who balked at its $4.5 trillion price tag and said he would not support extending the child tax credits without adding work requirements for parents.

Although Congressional efforts to extend the credits have stalled, Senate Democrats say they will continue efforts to revive the measure.

The end of the credits will affect working families too, Melendez said. As an example, she cited the case of a working parent with three children making $14.39 an hour — what Workforce has calculated to be the living wage for El Paso. With child tax credits included, that parent of three would earn about $40,000 annually, she said.

“That’s living better, not ‘living large,’” Melendez said. “Removing the tax credit reverts the family from living better to surviving.”

The child tax credits have also helped many El Paso families afford the rising cost of child care, Acosta noted, something the YWCA has identified as a major barrier to economic mobility, especially for El Paso women.

Pierce said her husband recently started an $18-an-hour job at a tire warehouse where he’ll have more dependable hours, relieving some anxiety for this first month without the payments. But she still hopes to see them return.

“I’ve been prideful in the past,” Pierce said. “I did not want help even though I was struggling.”

Now, Pierce’s attitude has changed. “If it’s helping me and keeping me and my family afloat and happy, so be it. … Not everybody’s got a silver spoon.”

Cover photo: The Pierce children, Liam, Nolan, and Logan, have a snack and watch cartoons with their mother, Yvette, after school. Yvette Pierce said the child tax credit payments her family received allowed them to have some breathing room in their budget after her husband lost income during the pandemic. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

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Victoria Rossi

Victoria Rossi is a gender reporter with El Paso Matters and a Report for America corps member. She has worked as a health and education journalist, an immigration paralegal, and a criminal justice researcher. She can be reached at vrossi@elpasomatters.org.

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