Decades ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned about the deceptions or “clever sophistries” of politicians. “We must be as armed with knowledge as they are,” he counseled.

Erin Bolduc, director of Kinder Camp, right, and children play at Buker Community Center in Augusta. The child tax credit is crucial for working families who are trying to cover the costs of necessities such as day care. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal, File

That’s good advice today, as lawmakers scramble to revive the child tax credit that was killed by Sen. Joe Manchin, along with the rest of President Biden’s Build Back Better plan. Manchin and others are now engaged in the exact kind of sophistries that King warned about.

Under last year’s American Rescue Plan, lawmakers increased the child tax credit received by parents and expanded eligibility to include nearly everyone but the very wealthy. It also paid families monthly instead of annually, with payments of up to $300 per child, per month.

The effects were astounding.

The families of 61 million children received the benefit. It lifted millions of children above the poverty line, as parents put this money toward basic needs including food, clothing, water, heat, housing and electricity. It also reduced racial inequities, with poor Black and Latinx households benefiting the most.

That credit expired in December, after Manchin announced on Fox News that he wouldn’t vote for Build Back Better, leaving Democrats one Senate vote short. He now says he’ll only support renewing it if he can fundamentally change what worked about it in 2021. Manchin, for instance, now insists on using “means testing and work requirements” to limit the credit.

Advertisement

“Means tests” restrict the availability of public assistance based on income, by making people “prove” they’re poor enough to deserve help. These often-burdensome requirements already limit access to Medicaid, food stamps, public housing and more.

Many means tests are established using the official poverty line, which is far too low. As a result, the tests underestimate who needs these programs, and how much they need.

Before the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) was expanded during the pandemic, more than 90 percent of the 42 million people receiving food stamps weren’t getting enough to have a healthy diet.

Likewise, before Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, millions of people who needed it were excluded. After the ACA raised the eligibility threshold, Medicaid enrollment increased by one-third in states that expanded the program.

Another 10 million people enrolled during the pandemic. Medicaid now covers more than 70 million people – evidence of how many people had to go without health care because of restrictive means testing.

These restrictions are rooted in the mistaken belief that people are poor because of their own failings, a bias that relies on offensive stereotypes. Manchin, for example, told colleagues that parents would use their child tax credit payments on drugs – an absurd slander that’s completely at odds with the data.

Advertisement

Tired old stereotypes like these come straight out of the 1990s, when new welfare restrictions signed by then-President Bill Clinton caused welfare rolls to drop from more than 12 million to just more than 5 million in five short years.

But with 140 million Americans still poor or low-income today, it’s plain that “welfare reform” didn’t reduce poverty or economic insecurity. It only prevented poor people from getting help.

Manchin has also raised concerns about the credit’s $20 billion cost. But he had no trouble voting to give the Pentagon a shocking $778 billion ($25 billion more than it asked for), a peacetime record.

We see through these clever sophistries. And we’re organizing a Mass Poor People’s and Low Wage Workers’ Assembly and March on Washington on June 18 to oppose them. As King advised, we’re armed with knowledge and we know what’s possible.

Anything less than everything we need isn’t enough.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.