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Monthly $300 payments are in the works for California families struggling to make ends meet.
The IRS begins the roll-out of the Child Tax Credit on July 15 as part of the American Rescue Plan. Qualifying households will receive up to $3,600 annually per child, which will benefit families across the state.
On Thursday, Fresno area leaders from Faith in the Valley, Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission, and First 5 Fresno County were joined by U.S. Rep. Jim Costa at a news conference touting the payments.
“We all benefit when families in our community have access to their basic needs,” said Amber Crowell, a Fresno State sociology professor and regional housing coordinator with Faith in the Valley.
But that’s not all. The coalition is advocating to make Child Tax Credit expansion permanent and exploring the idea of a guaranteed income program for Fresno County.
What to know about the Child Tax Credit payments
The IRS will pay half of the total credit amount in advance through monthly payments for the rest of the year. The government will pay the other half next year after tax season.
Families earning $150,000 or less can expect between $2,000 and $3,000 a year per child up to age 17 and up to $3,600 for kids under 6.
There is no application process; families that filed taxes in 2019 or 2020 will automatically be enrolled. Non-filers that already signed up for the Economic Impact Payments will also be automatically enrolled.
Those that didn’t earn enough to be required to file taxes can still sign up for the Child Tax Credit on the IRS website.
Children of undocumented parents can also qualify for the Child Tax Credit under two requirements: The child must have a Social Security number issued before May 17, 2021, and undocumented parents or guardians must have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number or an ITIN.
Families can see how much they qualify for by answering a few questions on the IRS CTC Eligibility Assistant page.
Supporters of the CTC and the American Rescue Plan describe it as a once-in-a-generation anti-poverty effort that they say will lift over half of American children out of poverty, including in California.
Fresno County is home to some of the highest rates of concentrated poverty in the nation. In the three congressional districts that touch Fresno County, an estimated 630,600 children will benefit from this tax credit. But the real need is probably greater than the numbers say, according to the Economic Security Project.
Nationwide, over 1 million immigrant children are not eligible for this benefit because of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
Growing inequality is also a concern. A recent analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed that full-time minority workers earn a median income of $40,000 per year in the Fresno metro area, or about 33.3% less than non-minority workers, who make a median of $60,000.
At the same time, Fresno has seen some of the highest increases in rent nationally over the past year, and the city has an affordable housing shortage.
Supporters of the tax credit say that while the temporary benefit will help families take care of basic needs like food, rent, and transportation, many households risk slipping back into poverty when the tax credit ends.
“Pulling the rug out from under families at the end of the year would be devastating,” said Crowell.
Push for permanent child tax credit expansion
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Costa and other Fresno-area groups urged Congress to make permanent the CTC benefit.
“We want the government to really understand and help and lift up our families that are struggling to meet basic needs (and) make it permanent, so it’s not a constant repetition of (the) cycle of poverty,” said Emilia Reyes, CEO of Fresno Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission.
The statewide coalition, Keep Families Afloat, says a permanent CTC benefit would drastically cut poverty. They also say Congress should remove the social security number requirement so that all families who need the credit can get it.
Crowell said supporters are confident that the CTC payments “will be effective and successful by all metrics.”
“Getting money directly to families who need it will give them that little extra stability that they need to stop surviving day-to-day and start thinking long-term about their future and about their well-being,” she said.
Crowell is also part of a coalition of local groups exploring a potential guaranteed basic income program for the Fresno County region. While the local coalition is still working out the details of a potential local guaranteed basic income program, Crowell said they hope to see it started by the end of the year.
A poll conducted in late June by Data for Progress and Mayors for a Guaranteed Income found that most likely voters surveyed said they supported making the CTC expansion permanent, with about 74% of Democrats expressing support, along with 57% of independent voters and about one-third of Republicans.
The poll also found that most voters surveyed said they support a guaranteed income program.
Melissa Montalvo is a reporter with The Fresno Bee and a Report for America corps member. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.