Local residents Cara Baldari and her 9-month-old daughter Evie (L) and Sarah Orrin-Vipond and her 8-month-old son Otto (R) join a rally in front of the U.S. Capitol Dec. 13, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Parents Together Action held a rally with parents, caregivers and children to urge passage of the Build Back Better legislation to extend the expanded Child Tax Credit. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

One month into the COVID-19 pandemic, Brittany Baker was furloughed as a housekeeper at a Dayton, Ohio, hospital. By April 2020, she had developed a high-risk pregnancy, partly due to her extreme fear and anxiety of catching the virus. She had preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and high blood pressure. She could no longer lift over five pounds and could not be in COVID-19-exposed areas with these conditions. Because of her limitations, Baker’s employer told her there was no more work for her and that she would need to be furloughed without any pay. In July, she gave birth, but her health issues prevented her from returning to work. Shortly after, Baker was pregnant again and delivered a baby in August 2021. If it were not for the $900 child tax credit payments she began receiving a month prior in July 2021, she says her family would have been in a “difficult predicament.”

“I was able to pay rent,” Baker said. “The child tax credit provided a roof over our heads.”

Child tax credit payments officially stopped in December 2021, so the lifeline for the mother of three and other parents in need of the extra cash flow is gone. According to census data, Black Americans had the highest poverty rate in 2020, with 19.5% falling below the poverty line in 2020, and Latinx people had a 17% poverty rate. Though white parents were more likely to take advantage of the child tax credit, low-income parents and parents of color were significantly more likely to benefit from the payments to pay off debt. As inflation reaches a 30-year high with consumer prices 7.5% higher than they were this time last year, the cost of living has become even more challenging to meet. Without the child tax credit, many parents of color say they are concerned for what is to come.

“Families with very low income is where families of color are overrepresented,” Brayan Rodriguez, senior economic policy analyst at Unidos, said. “If you want to drive equity, you need to make sure that the credit continues to be fully refundable and that it is permanently fully refundable.”

While 44-54% of adults with incomes below $25,000 reported receiving a child tax credit payment, adults who earn $75,000 or more were up to 18% more likely to receive it. According to U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey data collected between July and September 2021, among the households surveyed, reported rates of child tax credit receipt were lowest among Latinx adults (54%), non-Latinx adults who are Indigenous, Pacific Islander, or more than one race (53%), and adults whose household income is less than $25,000 (47%). While the payments were crucial for the low-income families who received them, low-income families report the lowest rate of receipt, signaling an issue with outreach. According to Rodriguez, part of the policy in Build Back Better would have included a robust program for the IRS to conduct culturally competent outreach to reach every eligible household.

“I’m definitely feeling the difference,” Baker said. “The way things are, even if I had a pocket full of money, I’d still be broke.”

Baker returned to work in October 2021, but because her three young children are all immunocompromised, she had to pull them out of school and child care when the Omicron surge hit. Balancing her family and her job has resulted in few full-time checks. Now, she says she has $22 to her name and wishes she had that consistent $900 payment to look forward to on the 15th of the month.

“My son needs formula; that’s $25 a can,” Baker said. “That child tax credit would essentially pull people like me out of debt.”

The child tax credit payments ended after West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin decided not to support President Joe Biden’s $1.7 trillion Build Back Better spending plan that would have extended the credits. An estimated 16% of West Virginians lived in poverty in 2019, making it the sixth highest poverty rate in the country. When the child tax credit was increased from $2,000 per child under 16 years old to $3,600 for children under 6 years old and $3,000 for children between 6 and 17 years old as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), an estimated 346,000 West Virginia children, 93% of all kids in the state, were eligible for the first payments in July. When Manchin’s decision gutted the future of the child tax credit, Black and brown families in West Virginia—a demographic that benefited from the child tax credit the most—were especially upset.

Peshka Calloway is one of the parents in West Virginia who greatly benefitted from the child tax credit payments. Calloway is a single mother, disabled army veteran, survivor of military sexual assault and domestic violence, and an organizer with Holler Health Justice who received $250 monthly child tax credit payments for the full six months. She used her payments to buy school clothes for her young son without fear of going over budget.

“The last few years have been a perpetual state of how am I going to pay this bill? How am I going to keep the lights on?” Calloway said.

Calloway says she feels a constant sense of betrayal from Manchin when it comes to everything from Build Back Better, voting rights, and “anything that Black and brown folks are fighting for and advocating for.”

“He would not have won his last election without us showing up in West Virginia,” Calloway said. “When I found out that Manchin wasn’t behind the [child tax credit], it just felt again like another betrayal from him. I know other veteran families who struggle and for him to say, ‘Nah,’ it was a huge slap in the face to me and to other veterans.”

LaFleur Duncan, a mother of two in Brooklyn, New York, used the $230 monthly payments to help pay for rent, start a college fund for her son, and pay for her son’s asthma medication. She was a nanny for over 30 years, but when the pandemic hit in 2020, the family she worked with left the city and she was left without an income. In the summer of 2021, she was invited by Parents Together and Moms Rising to meet with Biden and advocate for the child tax credit. Duncan said the experience was uplifting, but now that the payments have stopped, she is discouraged and disappointed. 

“We went all the way to Washington,” Duncan said. “Now, they stopped the payment, and all the other families that were there with all these children are not going to be able to get this money anymore.”

Duncan immediately felt the difference when she went to the grocery store and saw her usual loaf of bread was $5. 

“I screamed out, ‘What are we paying for?’” Duncan said. 

Parents and advocates would like to see the monthly payments continue, as a way to guarantee income. Going forward, Takeiya Smith, executive director of Young WV Forward, hopes to empower families to speak up and hold their elected officials accountable.

“They have an obligation to serve, protect, and invest in the people who they represent,” Smith said.

Meanwhile, senators in Congress are still debating which route to take, whether that is accepting Manchin’s work requirement limitations, conceding to a bipartisan bill by Sen. Mitt Romney that would slash federal welfare programs to pay for the program, or introducing a bill independent of Build Back Better. 

Alexandra Martinez is the Senior News Reporter at Prism. She is a Cuban-American writer based in Miami, Florida, with an interest in immigration, the economy, gender justice, and the environment. Her work...