The troubling spike in the national child poverty rate, which more than doubled in 2022–  from 5.2% to 12.4%, or to 9 million children – is the rate’s biggest annual increase ever.

That historic low of 5.2% is where the U.S. should have stayed, and sought to improve on. Had the federal government been willing to continue the expanded child tax credit, which brought the benefit into reach of many families who were previously ineligible for it because their income was not high enough, it could have been like that.

Instead, according to the Poverty Center at Columbia University, the families of 18 million children under the age of 17 – that’s 26% of all children in the U.S. – were ineligible for the full child tax credit last year. Now we’re seeing the unacceptable effects of that coming home to roost.

“We have now proved something pretty phenomenal, and at the same time, pretty obscene,” New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said this week. “What we’ve proved is that poverty for children in America is not some accident; it’s a policy choice.”

There’s no good justification for leaving children to languish below the poverty line, an outcome that hurts those children and their families while working against our cold, hard economic and social interests by driving up health care costs and underinvesting  – to put it lightly – in kids who need to be properly fed, educated and cared for to be well and to prosper.

Successive studies have shown that this support was used by disadvantaged families for food, the price of which has risen at its highest rate in decades over the past year.


Why did the program end? Because, wrongly villainized as a “welfare program” and cast as somehow too generous, it didn’t have the necessary congressional support. Asked about his pivotal opposition to the continuation of the expanded program, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin told the news site Semafor that he had no second thoughts. “It’s deeper than that, we all have to do our part,” Manchin said. “The federal government can’t run everything.”

While views like Manchin’s prevail in Washington, D.C., states like Maine are right to take bold steps to strengthen and make more robust their own child tax credit schemes. The budget Gov. Mills signed in July provides for a fully refundable tax credit program. In 2024, Maine will be one of 14 states that allows families with low incomes or little to no income tax liability to get the benefit anyway.

This well-designed policy includes the families that need it most. It’s good for those Mainers; it’s good for all Mainers.

“Research has shown that the child tax credit, every dollar we spend on it, generates an estimated $8 in benefits to society in the form of better health, more education and increased lifetime earnings for impacted children,” Josie Phillips of the Maine Center for Economic Policy told WGME back in May.

The fact remains: For something of the quantum and scale of the child tax credit, done properly, state efforts can only go so far.

The trouble with federal “pandemic-era supports,” as this editorial board has noted several times now, is that they were fit not just for the unique challenges exacerbated or created by the pandemic – challenges that still plague our economies and communities. To suspend them because time has passed, because the virus has come under control, is to lose sight of the day-to-day reality for American families struggling to make ends meet.

“Keeping kids in poverty is our choice. What’s it going to be?” this editorial board asked in the spring. We now know the sad answer. Whether this week’s news serves as enough of a wake-up call for the next round of negotiations on tax policy remains to be seen.

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