By Lakeisha McVey
I was raised in Des Moines in a low-income family that struggled with homelessness and housing instability. I have dedicated my career to advocating for anti-poverty policies, so I have a deep personal and professional understanding of the impacts of child poverty and know the difference a supportive tax credit can make.
As the mother of a medically complex son who spent the first six weeks of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit, no one prepares you for the immense cost of simply trying to save your child’s life. In those first few months, his medical bills skyrocketed to more than $800,000. Then there are the diapers, wipes, breastfeeding supplies, clothing, crib and all the other expenses of being a first-time parent, all compounded by increasing prices of gas, groceries and interest rates.
After finally making it home, a new challenge emerged: the cost of child care. The average cost of child care for an infant is around $1,200 a month – similar to a mortgage or rent. Like many households, we need both incomes to make ends meet and that was a high price tag to consider paying. It’s even harder to find affordable child care for a medically complex child, which often involves years-long wait lists and requires the child to qualify for Medicaid for special needs kids.
We’re lucky. We are a two-parent, two-income household with great health care benefits and a medical team for our son that guides us through the avalanche of paperwork and bureaucracy needed for his care. These advantages made the costs we incurred as new parents bearable, though it doesn’t address the stress or how quickly our bank of paid time off was used up.
Now imagine we didn’t have those advantages and were handling those costs on a $15,000 per year minimum wage salary. Imagine being a single income household, not having a flexible job or enough paid time off, not having good health care or worse, not having any healthcare at all. What was bearable would become insurmountable.
That is why families need the expanded child tax credit. When Congress expanded the child tax credit in 2021, child poverty was cut almost in half, and parents got more freedom to make ends meet. But Congress let the expansion lapse after just one year, slashing the size of the credit for millions of working families and fully excluding 2 million others.
Re-expanding the child tax credit would mean not having to choose between buying diapers or filling our children’s bellies. We could save for unplanned expenses and ensure our children have access to safe, loving child care settings. We could be more present in our children’s lives, instead of anxious and absorbed by pouring over expenses to make each paycheck stretch.
Congress must expand the child tax credit, especially to families with low incomes, in any tax legislation this year because our children deserve better. They deserve full bellies, a safe home, and to indulge in all the same joys that other children do.
Lakeisha McVey is a mother with lived experience of child poverty and a fierce advocate of anti-poverty policies. She currently lives in Des Moines with her husband and son.