Child tax credits had a huge impact in U.S. households that struggle to afford food.
And after those credits ended, many low-income American families with children had trouble getting enough to eat.
Food insufficiency increased substantially, by about 25%, between January and July after the Child Tax Credit payments stopped on Jan. 15, 2022.
Black families, Hispanic families, and Indigenous and immigrant families were especially hard hit, according to researchers from Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) and Boston Medical Center (BMC).
The researchers said the increase in food insufficiency is an urgent problem. Poor nutrition uniquely affects the health and well-being of growing children, they explained in a university news release.
“This significant increase in food insufficiency among families with children is particularly concerning for child health equity, as child health, development and educational outcomes are strongly linked to their family's ability to afford enough food,” said study author Allison Bovell-Ammon, director of policy and communications at BMC-based Children's HealthWatch. “Even brief periods of deprivation during childhood can have lasting impacts on a child.”
The Child Tax Credit benefits were part of President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan. From July to December 2021, it gave about 92% of U.S. households up to $3,000 for each child between 6 and 17 years of age, and up to $3,600 for younger children. Half of the money was distributed through monthly checks.
The expanded tax credit reduced food insufficiency by 26% in 2021. But Congress did not renew the tax credit at year's end.
For the new study, the researchers used U.S. Census data to gauge the impact. They looked at demographic characteristics, employment, social supports and food insufficiency in nearly 600,000 families, from July 2021 to July 2022.
Not surprisingly, low-income households saw the greatest increases in food insufficiency after the advance payments ended. It was especially notable in the spring, at which point many families likely depleted the tax credits that were a part of tax filings.
Single-adult, non-Hispanic Black, and Hispanic households also experienced greater food insufficiency, the investigators found.
“Black, Latino, Indigenous, and immigrant families in the U.S. consistently experience food insecurity — a broader measure that assesses quantity, quality and variety of food — at higher rates than white families as a result of current and historical marginalization and systemic racism,” Bovell-Ammon said.
Immigrant families also faced barriers to claiming the tax credit, said study co-author Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba, executive director of Children's HealthWatch.
“These barriers were due in part to specific eligibility exclusions, but they also occurred even when immigrant families were eligible," she pointed out. "Following the expiration of the payments at the end of 2021, the gains in racial equity were eroded, potentially further exacerbating racial and health inequities and increasing distrust.”
The researchers urged lawmakers to pass a fully refundable and inclusive advance credit in their year-end tax relief package.
“The six short months of these Child Tax Credit advanced payments clearly made a big difference for American families, a permanent expansion would be a game-changer for reducing child poverty for good,” said senior study author Paul Shafer, assistant professor of health law, policy and management at BUSPH.
“There is more to do to make sure that very low-income families actually get the monthly payments, prompting efforts like GetCTC.org, but a permanent expansion allows resources and awareness to build around the policy in a way that short-term fixes don't,” he added.
The report was published online Oct. 21 in JAMA Network Open.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more on food insecurity.
SOURCE: Boston University School of Public Health, news release, Oct. 21, 2022