Abstract: The Impacts of the 2021 Expanded Child Tax Credit on Family Employment, Nutrition, and Financial Well-Being (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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The Impacts of the 2021 Expanded Child Tax Credit on Family Employment, Nutrition, and Financial Well-Being

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Laveen B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Leah Hamilton, PhD, Associate Professor, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC
Stephen Roll, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, Washington University in Saint Louis, St Louis, MO
Mathieu Despard, PhD, Associate Professor, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC
Yung Chun, PhD, Data Analyst III, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Laura Brugger, PhD, Data Analyst III, Washington University in Saint Louis
Michal Grinstein-Weiss, PhD, Shanti K. Khinduka Distinguished Professor, Director, Social Policy Institute, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Background and purpose: The 2021 temporary expansion of the child tax credit (CTC) was unprecedented in its reach, lifting 3.7 million children out of poverty. It provided families with up to $3,600 for every child in the household under six and up to $3,000 for every child ages six to 17. Half the credit was issued monthly between July and December 2021. Almost all middle- and low-income families with children were eligible for the CTC. Married parents making less than $150,000 and single parents making less than $112,500 per year were eligible to receive the full amount of the credit, which began to phase out slowly after these income cut-offs. This study aims to understand the impact of the expanded CTC on families and inform current proposals to make the credit permanent.

Methods: We utilized the NORC/Amerispeak probability-based online panel to survey a nationally-representative group of 1,782 American parents eligible for the credit and a comparison group of 2,015 ineligible households, with both groups limited to households making less than $150,000. Wave 1 of the survey was administered immediately before the first CTC payments were delivered and Wave 2 was administered soon after the final payments were deposited on December 15th. We utilize both descriptive analyses to better understand recipient perceptions and uses of the credit as well as a difference-in-difference analysis to compare pre-post CTC employment and wellbeing trends of eligible and ineligible households.

Findings: The most common reported uses of the credit were routine expenses such as housing and utilities, clothing or other essential items for children, food, saving for emergencies, and paying off debt. 63% of recipients said monthly payments made it easier to budget than a single lump sum at tax time. A strong majority of households affected by inflation reported that the CTC payments helped manage inflation expenses. There were no statistically significant differences in employment between eligible and ineligible households, but recipients were more likely to start learning new professional skills. Compared to ineligible households, eligible households were more likely to report increased ability to afford balanced meals and increased fruit and protein consumption. They were also significantly more likely to reduce reliance on payday loans, pawnshops, and selling blood plasma, had significant declines in credit card debt, experienced significant declines in evictions, and increased their access to emergency saving

Conclusions and Implications: Overall, our findings suggest that families used the CTC to cover routine expenses without reducing their employment. Eligible families experienced improved nutrition, decreased reliance on credit cards and other high-risk financial services, and also made long-term educational investments for both parents and children. We find that these changes were especially promising for Black, Hispanic, and other minority families, along with low- and moderate-income families, suggesting that the expanded CTC may be an important tool for addressing both racial financial inequality and a widening income gap in the United States.