Struggling parents prepare for the loss of child tax credit payments: 'I won't eat so my kids can'

A child listens at school while wearing a mask.
Second-graders listen to a lesson at Paw Paw Elementary School on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, in Paw Paw, Michigan.AP Photo/Martha Irvine
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  • The monthly child tax credit payments will expire at the end of this month with no renewal date in sight.

  • Three mothers told Insider the loss of the payments would be devastating for their families.

  • One mother said she would forgo food to feed her kids, while two others said they'll have to find another job.

For the last six months, the government-funded child tax credit payments have meant the difference between food on the table and empty bellies for Stormy Johnson and her two teenage kids.

Between a devastating house fire and unexpected car problems, the West Virginia single mother told Insider that 2021 has been "a heck of a year" for her family. But the extra monthly money was a godsend during the troubled times.

The expanded child tax credit payments, which were passed as part of the American Rescue Plan in March 2021, were sent to low-income and middle-class families beginning in July and continuing through December.

The spring expansion of the credit, which increased eligibility among American families, made the payments a monthly deposit instead of an annual one. The update also raised the maximum credit to $3,600 a year for children ages five and younger, and $3,000 a year for older kids, ranging from payments of $250 to $300 a month per kid.

The final scheduled check went out earlier this month.

Now, Johnson's stability, as well as millions of other American families' survival, has been thrown into turmoil after Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced on Sunday that he would not support President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion Build Back Better Agenda after months of discussions, effectively tanking the child tax credit payments that were slated to be renewed come January.

The news has left recipients of the payments frustrated, and in some cases, desperate.

Insider spoke to three mothers who said the loss of the monthly child tax credit payments would be devastating.

"I'm absolutely heartbroken," Johnson said. Without the payments, she estimated she'll have only $50 left at the end of each paycheck after paying the bills — and that's before she's bought food, toiletries or gas to get to and from work.

"Without these payments, I won't eat so my kids can," she told Insider.

Johnson isn't the only parent worried about putting food on the table come January.

A recent survey conducted by family advocacy group ParentsTogether Action found that 32% of recipients said they would no longer be able to afford enough food for their kids if the payments are paused or discontinued. Thirty-two percent of respondents also said they wouldn't be able to afford their rent or mortgage without the extra payments.

More than 85% of the survey respondents have household incomes less than $75,000 and 50% of respondents said it will be more difficult to meet their family's needs without the payments, while 36% of respondents said if the payments lapse, they will not be able to meet their family's needs at all.

People hold signs that say Build Back Better.
Faith leaders hold signs during a news conference about the child tax credit, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington.AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Two parents said if the payments stop, they'll be forced to look for a second job to make ends meet.

Mekeshia Sanchez, a Florida mother of two young daughters, said the checks were vital to her family's security after she was forced to quit her job as a hospice nurse when her daughters returned to in-person school.

"Due to their school closures every few days, or the kids getting sick…or them having to quarantine after being exposed, [my husband] and I had to take off from work," Sanchez said.

The couple's increasingly-frequent time off requests eventually became impossible to sustain and Sanchez had to leave her position for a role that let her work from home.

"I don't make the same amount of money, but I had to take the position because it allowed me to be home more if [my daughters] can't go to school," she said.

The child tax credit payments helped offset her diminished pay, allowing the family to afford groceries, gas, and pay the bills. But now, the uncertainty surrounding the payments' continuation has left Sanchez feeling "like garbage."

"How am I supposed to do this?" she said. "It's not going to work."

Sanchez, who already works full time, said she's begun searching for a second job to make up the difference; one that will likely take her away from her family on nights and weekends.

"I already have my application in on Indeed," Sanchez said. "It's going to be rough."

LaFleur Duncan, a Brooklyn mother of two, is also preparing to start job hunting again for the second time in two years.

Duncan lost her longtime nannying job at the start of the pandemic when the family she had worked with for years decided to leave the city. Since then, Duncan has found work assisting people with their credit, but the jobs have been inconsistent and unreliable, she told Insider.

Duncan and her husband used their monthly $250 from the child tax credit payments to cover medical bills and insurance costs for her son's asthma, as well as assist with rising rental costs and monthly bills. When there was money left over, Duncan said she put it away in a college account she started for her son's future.

But any break in the regular payments would necessitate more income for Duncan and her family.

"I will have to find other means," she told Insider. "Something else to do to make up what [the payments] were covering."

The likely break in payments has left parents feeling betrayed by lawmakers — and one senator, in particular, is taking the brunt of the blame.

Joe Manchin
Joe Manchin

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Sen. Manchin drove a stake through Biden's ambitious spending agenda last weekend, which included an extension of the child tax credit payments that have been distributed to nearly 36 million households since July.

The centrist Democrat has taken particular issue with the payments, which he excluded completely from his own $1.8 trillion pitch to Biden during negotiations last week. Manchin has called for strict work requirements and an income cap for recipients if he is to support the continuation of the payments moving forward.

He even reportedly suggested that parents might use the extra funds to buy drugs, per HuffPost — an insinuation that did not sit well with Johnson, both a mother and West Virginian voter.

"I'll go without food so my kids won't, but it shouldn't be like that," Johnson said. "But [Manchin] doesn't want to hear that because I'm not a drug addict."

"It doesn't look quite right on his agenda," she added.

Johnson, a community advocate who has been on calls with Manchin's staffers in an effort to ensure the continuation of the child tax credit payments, said she feels like the senator isn't listening to his constituents.

"I'm heartbroken to think he wouldn't support something that's going to help people help themselves, and instead create dependency and a feeling of helplessness," Johnson said.

In a statement to Insider, a spokesperson with Manchin's office denied reports that the senator opposes the child tax credit payments.

"Senator Manchin has made clear he supports the child tax credit and believes the money should be targeted to those who need it most," Sam Runyon, communications director for the lawmaker said.

But Duncan, too, decried Manchin's power over the payments as the pandemic nears its two-year mark.

"It's so ironic that one person holds so much power," she said. "It's a disaster."

Still, she struck a hopeful chord looking toward the future.

"We will continue to fight. We will not give up," Duncan said.

On Tuesday, Biden appeared confident that he and Manchin would eventually strike a deal to save the Build Back Better agenda, though there was no mention of whether the child tax credit payments would be included as is in a final bill.

"Sen. Manchin and I are going to get something done," he told reporters. "I still think we can get Build Back Better done."

But Sanchez, for her part, had only one message for the DC lawmakers deciding her fate.

"Pass the bill," she said.

Read the original article on Business Insider