SOUTH PORTLAND — Allie Casciotti spends $1,700 a month on child care for her two young daughters, well in excess of her $1,200 mortgage payment. So getting some extra help from the federal government for child expenses is helping her make ends meet.

“(The cost of child care) made me question working. I was basically working to pay for day care costs,” said Casciotti, who received a $600 child care tax credit check in July. While she said she would have gone back to college regardless of the tax credit money, the monthly checks are helping her family afford both college and child care.

“It has really eased the burden,” Casciotti said.

The Biden administration began sending out monthly tax credit checks of up to $300 for each child in a household to families in July – the credits were included in the American Rescue Plan law, which was approved by Congress in March. Democrats want to make the tax credit permanent – it is set to expire in one year – either through a massive budget bill currently being considered in Congress or a separate bill.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and Maine Gov. Janet Mills, also a Democrat, touted the credit at a roundtable Wednesday at Southern Maine Community College. The event was held at Spring Point Children’s Center on the SMCC campus, which provides day care for 3- to 5-year-olds. The day care is operated by the college and is available for parents who are students and staff, as well as to the public.

The child tax credit checks are going to parents of about 215,000 Maine children and average about $415 a month per household. The program is expected to cut child poverty in half, Pingree said.

Pingree said the pandemic, which forced the closure of day cares and school buildings last year, highlighted the importance and the cost of child care.

“Everyone benefits when parents can afford child care,” Pingree said. “This is money that’s going to be used. It’s not going to sit around.”

Lindsey Clancy of Kennebunk talks about how the child tax credit has helped her family, during a roundtable discussion hosted Wednesday by Rep. Chellie Pingree and Gov. Janet Mills in South Portland. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

She said more than half of Americans can’t afford an unexpected $500 expense, so the tax credit is helping families pay surprise bills and shore up family budgets.

Casciotti, 38, said she used to work as an organic farmer and education technician, but has gone back to school at the University of New England to earn a master’s degree in occupational therapy.

Mills said her administration has used $20 million in federal pandemic relief funds to shore up the child care industry, including providing stipends and training for workers and helping with other expenses. But the bottom line is families need to be able to afford child care, she said.

“This money will be used by families struggling to afford child care. This isn’t a Band-aid. This is a bridge to the future,” Mills said.

Lindsey Clancy, 37, of Kennebunk, who along with her husband works in the forestry industry, said knowing they are getting $550 per month for their two daughters is “peace of mind.” The couple spends more than $18,000 a year on child care, and Clancy said it helps that the tax credit checks arrive monthly and they don’t have to wait to file a tax return.

Rep. Chellie Pingree answers a question about the child tax credit during a roundtable discussion she hosted with Gov. Janet Mills in South Portland on Wednesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“You can’t tell day care ‘I’ll pay you in April when I get my tax refund,’ ” Clancy said.

The checks are $300 per month for every child age 5 and under, and $250 per month for children ages 6 to 17. The monthly payments go through December, with the remaining amount to be recovered when 2021 taxes are filed. The tax credit phases out for individuals earning more than $75,000, $112,000 for people filing as a head of household or $150,000 for people who are married and filing jointly.

Pingree said she’s optimistic about the prospects of the child tax credit becoming permanent, as it’s a priority among Democratic leaders and the Biden administration.

“There’s a strong appetite in Congress to continue this safety net,” she said.

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