WA families lose safety nets as pandemic, inflation persists

Expanded social safety net

The American Rescue Plan temporarily increased the child tax credit and sent monthly payments — up to $300 per child under 6 and $250 for older kids — to families during part of last year. Households with kids also received an extra boost when the first stimulus checks went out at the very beginning of the pandemic.

The extra money helped many families afford basic needs, such as food and clothes, said Mary Fosse, an Everett City Council member. She also recently announced her bid for state representative in the 38th Legislative District.

Fosse described the child tax credit as a key safety net, providing relief to families during the ongoing uncertainty of the times.

“My family used it for groceries,” said Fosse, whose husband lost his job during the pandemic. “The child tax credit gave a lot of us a little breathing room.”

This story is a part of Crosscut’s WA Recovery Watch, an investigative project tracking federal dollars in Washington state.

The Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University reported that the payments lifted millions of children out of poverty. A study by the center found child poverty rates increased by 41% after 3.7 million fell into poverty when the payments stopped in January.

“In the middle of one of the worst economic and public health crises, we saw childhood poverty decline and the [child tax credit] played a huge role in that,” said Pedro Morillas, a campaign director at the Economic Security Project, an advocacy group with a mission of putting unrestricted cash in the hands of low-income households.

For some, a new tax rebate passed last year by Washington lawmakers might offset some of the gap starting next year. Modeled after the federal earned income tax credit, the state-level working families tax exemption will send yearly payments between $300 and $1,200 to workers making the least. The bill passed with broad support from both parties.

“Cash policies are only controversial in Congress,” Morillas said. “When you get serious conversation about the benefits of cash for kids and families, you get bipartisan support and agreement.”

Everett resident Ryan Webber said his family used the tax credit money to pay for child care as his wife reentered the workforce.

“The child tax credit changed our lives for the better. It helped get us out of debt and help us pay for child care and help get my wife back in the workforce,” Webber said. “I don’t know how any of those things would have happened before.”

After the family endured months of isolation during the pandemic, the first morning Webber took his son to day care was an emotional one.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” Webber said, “He’s finally with other kids and playing.”

Though with a limited budget and few nearby options, Webber’s child care doesn’t last the entire workday, ending instead at 3:30 pm So in the last hour of work he juggles entertaining a 4½-year-old with his duties in a bank’s loan department. Many days, those 60 minutes are filled with snack requests and demands for attention.

The relief money also allowed the family to pay off credit debt. “Now we’re making enough to save for the future,” he said, “rather than just paying for the past.”

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