Letters: Montana pediatricians urge Daines, Tester to back bill with Child Tax Credit

As Congress continues to work towards an agreement on a fiscal reconciliation package, Montana’s delegation, including Sens. Daines and Tester, the opportunity to show that they truly understand the economic difficulties facing families by adopting a budget that guarantees a fair economic recovery.

As pediatricians, we know that there is a lot at stake for children. Think of everything they’ve been through over the years. A child who entered kindergarten in 2019 is now in 2nd grade and has never experienced a regular school year.

Almost every family has a hard time and we know that not everyone goes through the same hardships. For some, the pressure of balancing school, childcare and work makes it a challenge to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.

Childhood is a crucial window for development and determines the trajectory of health for the rest of one’s life. Research consistently shows that poverty, food insecurity and other economic hardship threaten healthy growth for children. This can lead to poor health outcomes, which in turn can have lasting effects on their well-being.

Unfortunately, child poverty affects one in four households in Montana. These children more often live in households with parents who do not have a steady job. Low-income families in particular have benefited from the recent changes to the Child Tax Credit (CTC).

The CTC is a game changer. Major improvements to the CTC passed in the American Rescue Plan Act, which Senator Tester supported, include expanding eligibility for low-income families and allowing monthly payments. For eligible parents with a four-year-old, that means $300 per month. About 198,000 of Montana’s children currently receive monthly payments through the CTC.

The credit can help cover about 40 percent of the average monthly childcare costs, or it can equal a month’s worth of food for a child. Evidence shows that parents use the credit to pay for essentials such as rent, utilities and education opportunities. Another essential feature is the potential to support employment, as many can now afford childcare or better transport, making them more likely to find and keep a job.

Early data on the impact of the CTC is promising. Recent research shows that the CTC payments reduce food insecurity, which is strongly associated with short- and long-term health outcomes. The credit is expected to reduce child poverty in the US by nearly half and is already having a positive impact on rural communities.

Before the expansion of the CTC, more than a third (78,000) of all children in Montana belonged to families who were earning too little to receive full CTC benefits. The expansion ensures that families with the lowest incomes are eligible and increases the amount of credit. However, it will expire at the end of 2021. The extended credit would lift 45 percent of Montana’s children and 55 percent of children of color out of poverty. So Congress must act quickly to extend these provisions and implement more racially just policies by re-eligibility for young DREAMers.

The health of Montana’s children requires bold investments in evidence-based policies. A permanent child tax credit available to all children would lift millions of children out of poverty, improve health, promote racial equality, provide tax relief for many families and strengthen local communities. On behalf of the children we work with every day, we urge our congressional delegation to put Montana children first and stand up for this transformative and visionary support for families.

dr. Lauren Wilson, Missoula, MTAAP Vice President; dr. Erin Allen, Billings, MTAAP Early Childhood Chapter Champion; dr. Emily Hall, Polson, MTAAP Member; dr. Teresa Blaskovich, Billings MTAAP Secretary-Treasurer; dr. Pepper Henyon; Bozeman, MTAAP Former Chairman; dr. John Cole, Kalispell, MTAAP Chairman; dr. Erin Green, Helena, MTAAP Member at large; dr. Jordan LeJeune, Great Falls, MTAAP Member at large.

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