My family of six gets a hefty monthly child tax credit check – and that's a problem

The fifth check is probably in the mail, or it will be soon. It’ll be the same as the last four – $804. We’re receiving the new child tax credit created by President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats in March, which they’re now trying to extend through at least next year in their multitrillion dollar spending bill. But it would be better for us, and America, if these checks stopped.

My wife and I know the reasons behind these checks: Raising children is hard, so the government wants to try to make it a little easier. It’s true parenting is a slog – we have four kids, ages 7, 5, 3 and 6 months, and every day is somehow crazier than the last. But does that really mean Americans need Washington to pay us up to $3,600 for each kid up to age 6 and $3,000 per kid ages 6 through 17? As nice as that sounds, the child tax credit is riddled with problems, as a growing number of congressional Democrats are starting to discover.

Destroying middle-class independence

Historically, federal support was tailored to the least fortunate and most vulnerable, yet the child tax credit is aimed at the low- and middle-income families.

The families of nearly 60 million children are getting these monthly checks, including families with good-paying jobs. Families like mine will quickly come to demand taxpayer-funded checks. Worse, we’ll come to depend on the money.

It doesn’t matter who you are: You start out not needing the cash only to find that you do need it, just as you soon as spend it. Maybe you bought a new minivan. Maybe you subscribed to a bunch of streaming services. Maybe you put that money into a bigger mortgage on a better house. Regardless of what they use it for, families are already spending the money as if it were always there and will always be there. The name for that is dependency.

President Joe Biden speaks about the child tax credit relief payments on July 15, 2021.
President Joe Biden speaks about the child tax credit relief payments on July 15, 2021.

Some Democrats are waking up to this fact. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the crucial swing vote in the Senate, is pushing to cap the checks to families making about $60,000 a year or less, according to Axios. Others in the party – including Rep. Jared Golden of Maine and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio – have also suggested that they support lowering the annual income threshold so wealthier families don’t receive it.

Yet even if the enhanced tax credit is limited to low-income families, it will still suffer from major issues – especially its lack of connection to work.

Normally, I have to work hard for $800, but this money came regardless of the effort I put in. While my wife and I recognize that raising kids is its own form of work, it’s a labor of love, not a day at the office. I can’t help but feel that my work is somehow diminished and even unnecessary.

Child tax credit "is going to make a difference." Families plan how they'll spend extra cash.
Child tax credit "is going to make a difference." Families plan how they'll spend extra cash.

For me, that’s just a feeling. But for a lot of families, it will become a compulsion. The new child tax credit is paid regardless of whether parents work. One study shows that 1.5 million parents could leave the workforce, relying solely on the checks and other government programs.

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Manchin seems to be the only Democrat who understands that’s wrong. He has demanded a work requirement, consistent with virtually every other federal family support program over the past 30 years. It’s unclear whether he’ll succeed because the rest of the party is pressuring him to cave and accept an extension. But he’s right to wonder why we need a policy that pushes people to the economy’s sidelines instead of keeping them in the game.

Staggering costs will hurt our children

Many lawmakers are also reacting to the staggering costs of benefits such as the child tax credit. Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has tried to cut costs from the broader spending bill.

A one-year extension would cost $100 billion, but you’d better believe that’s a floor, not a ceiling. Entitlements are all but impossible to roll back, and over 10 years, the credit would cost $1.6 trillion.

Nick Adolphsen in Kansas City, Mo., in June 2021.
Nick Adolphsen in Kansas City, Mo., in June 2021.

And that assumes it won’t become more generous over time – something else entitlements often do. My kids, who got us the checks, will have to pay back the massive national debt being racked up. And unlike the child tax credit, that debt comes with an interest rate, so my kids will be on the hook for more than we’re being paid every month.

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The checks are on track to end in December, with a final payout when my wife and I file our taxes in April. We’re hoping that’s the last we’ll hear of it, because if the child tax credit doesn’t expire, monthly checks divorced from work will become engrained in homes like ours. It’s unclear whether Congress has the votes to extend it. But it’s increasingly clear that lawmakers shouldn’t.

Nick Adolphsen is state government affairs director at the Foundation for Government Accountability.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dependency, debt are the byproducts of the child tax credit checks