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Bye, Bye Benefits (America, please do better.)

Since July 2021, many parents with children began to receive extra infusions of cash into their bank accounts, and it seemed too good to be true: Regular, monthly payments for each dependent under 17 years old? No application required? No restrictions on what the money could be spent on? American parents have been so conditioned to raise their children without meaningful government support that we could not believe the news. Here is an actual text message exchange between one of my dear friends and myself after I told her that she was one of the beneficiaries of the expanded Child Tax Credit:


Her: Wait what?!!! I haven’t heard of this?!!! There’s no way I qualify for this…

Me: Yes! I’m almost certain you do!

Her: Holy shit! Do we pay this back later?

Me: Nope!

Her: 🤯🤯🤯🤯


This benefit turned out to be true – but all too brief. Not quite a chimera, the extra monthly payments were a meteor streaking across the sky, disappearing beyond the horizon before we could memorize its image. By January 2022, it was all over. Most families received their last child allowance on December 15.


Is it better to have loved and lost, or never have loved at all?


I am grateful for the monthly payments, even if they were short-lived. The $300 that my family received for our one child paid for about two weeks of childcare. My husband and I are so fortunate that we could have managed without the extra money, but there’s no denying that it gave our monthly budget some breathing room.

 

My little guy at daycare, happy that his tuition is partially subsidized by Uncle Sam.

 

For the families who are less financially secure, usually for reasons that are out of their control, the loss of these extra cash payments could be catastrophic. For these parents and especially their children, I sincerely hope that Congress will figure out a way to make permanent some kind of child cash allowance for most American families.


Would I bet my $300 monthly tax credit on it? Absolutely not.


This is America: We have no federal parental leave program. Our politicians have decided that working parents do not deserve paid time off to take care of our children when they are at their most vulnerable and impressionable.


This is America: The childcare industry is in crisis. Quality care is difficult to find and often prohibitively expensive.


In contrast to the high cost of daycare tuition, which can be more than many families’ mortgage payments, childcare workers are shamefully underpaid. The median pay for a childcare worker in the United States in 2020 was $12.24. That fact should offend anyone who works in childcare, who uses childcare services, or who generally enjoys making a living wage.


This is America: Although the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now advocates for ongoing postpartum care, the current standard is one postpartum checkup, usually six weeks after birth. Any parent knows that the need for medical care for one’s own wellbeing does not disappear after six weeks. Postpartum depression, for example, can strike up to a year after the baby is born.


Expiring child tax benefits, unsubsidized childcare, no paid parental leave. If these were plot points in a novel, the theme would be “The government does not have a responsibility to help its citizens care for their children.”


This thinking is callous and shortsighted, willfully ignorant to the societal benefits of children who are raised in financially stable homes by parents who have access to support. It also assumes that people who need government assistance cannot be trusted to be responsible stewards of that aid. I’m sure I speak for myself, my friend, and the other recipients of the child tax benefit: I’m offended.


Toward the end of our conversation about the small windfall of cash we both would be receiving, my friend said, “I just know how it feels to want to cry when you are so strapped.” She didn’t have to say it because we both understood: raising children is expensive, especially when you want to give them the world. And in our world, everything has a price. (And interest, and a down payment, and a co-pay, and a rental fee, and a tax, and…)


The average parent in America is not short on reasons to cry: a pandemic, climate catastrophe, the collapse of democracy, racial unrest, Betty White’s death. Instead, we need something that will blow our minds. It only takes a few hundred bucks.



Sources and further reading:

Child tax credit

Child care crisis

Universal child allowance

Paid parental leave

Postpartum care