Ending Child Poverty Is a Choice We Can Make

California children and families will receive much-needed money to buy food, pay for housing or child care, and other urgent needs thanks to the American Rescue Plan approved in early March by Congress and signed by President Biden.

And the number of children and families who will benefit from assistance through an expanded Child Tax Credit is remarkable — 7.9 million to 9 million California children, according to estimates from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and ITEP, respectively. More than three-quarters (78%) of the children who will benefit in California are children of color, according to Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates.

Nearly 1 in 5 California children were living in poverty even before the pandemic.

We know this is much-needed support as the pandemic has only worsened daily life for California’s kids: many do not have enough to eat, live in households that can’t pay for basic needs, and still lack health insurance coverage.

In addition to the significant dollars and figures, changes to the Child Tax Credit also break down policies that have harmed Californians for generations, particularly Black and Latinx children and families, women, and many more people in low-income households. Specifically, many prior policies and practices in public assistance have bolstered white supremacy in the form of mandated work requirements to receive support and disregard of racial and gender discrimination that blocks people of color and women from access to jobs.

The American Rescue Plan and significant expansion of the Child Tax Credit is a policy game changer. By choosing to provide unrestricted cash to children and families previously excluded from the credit, and without added requirements or restrictions, we are acknowledging classist, racist, and sexist policies that have regulated and dominated how assistance is provided and kept children and families in poverty. We are trusting that parents and guardians — regardless of their access to work or race — know what is needed to care and provide for their children and households.

As Elisa Minoff notes in The Racist Roots of Work Requirements: “To this day, Black people are more likely to be subjected to a work requirement in the first place, and they are more likely to have assistance taken away as a result.” She goes on: “Work requirements not only deny families much-needed assistance, but they also discount much of their labor, ignoring the caregiving work that people provide to their loved ones, and pushing them into low-paid, insecure jobs that make it impossible to make ends meet.”

Research and stories show us even before the pandemic created enormous job and income losses for low-paid workers, it’s been politics, policies, and practices blocking and harming Black families, communities of color, and women from economic opportunities that have bolstered many white wealthy families to not just survive but thrive in this crisis. At the same time, policies have ignored the unpaid labor and caregiving contributions of women and people of color.

The American Rescue Plan shows us all there is a path forward for every child to grow up poverty free.

What lessons can California and national leaders take forward?

Make the changes to the Child Tax Credit and benefits for children and families last beyond this pandemic — and expand them to include all children of undocumented Californians. California should follow suit and allow families without earnings to qualify for the state’s Young Child Tax Credit. Jobs and incomes will not grow back to pre-pandemic levels for years to come, and some people will not see economic and health gains in their lifetimes without broader structural changes to employment, housing, child care, and health care in their communities.

Policymakers can provide basic assistance that families need to provide for their households. And state and federal leaders can make these policy choices free of class, race, and gender discrimination.

The American Rescue Plan shows us all there is a path forward for every child to grow up poverty free. It’s simply a choice.

Independent policy research, analysis, and commentary with the goal of helping create an economy that works for all Californians.