Women are under attack in America. Our freedom is being gleefully stripped away by the conservative Supreme Court and various state legislatures across the nation, and we need our leaders to take every step possible to ensure that women and their children retain any agency they have left. Given it is impossible to extract economic justice from reproductive rights, President Joe Biden and Congress must pass the expanded child tax credit (CTC) and give us a much-needed win.
The policy, which withered on the vine along with the rest of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda due to a refusal to let go of long standing, racist narratives, pulled millions of kids each month from poverty. The expansion also included the key element of “refundability”—meaning households with low or no incomes were included for the first time. Before this addition, the most marginalized were left out of receiving the full credit. This included a third of all children, half of Black and Latinx kids and 70 percent of single moms. Leaving out mostly people of color was purposeful and has everything to do with who we see as deserving of government help.
The expanded inclusion of CTC and raising the maximum credit to $3,600 from $2,000 served as a lifeline to families—many of whom were struggling long before the pandemic, and helped move the needle toward greater freedom and choice for women. As a result, child poverty plummeted to its lowest recorded rate. Moms across the country shared stories of how critical the aid was with the nonprofit Income Movement, speaking about how the monthly payments of up to $300 helped them afford everything from child care so they could return to work to necessary medical visits they had delayed previously because of the cost. Victoria, a mom of three in Wisconsin, said it was the first year she was able to pay all her bills and have a little money left at the end of the month.
A mom of one in Delaware, Lauren, said the payments allowed her to care for her young son and think about expanding her family. The direct cash support allowed women to make the best decisions for themselves and their families—a concept currently reserved for the wealthy in America.
While the uses are individual, the end result is clear: The expanded CTC bought women some desperately needed breathing room and freedom.
While for some that may have meant expanding their families, for many others it meant choosing not to. In fact, most women who have abortions already have a child. It’s important to remember that the religious right’s obsession with forced birth is rooted in anti-Blackness stemming from segregation and has more to do with controlling women and limiting their choices versus actually caring about their theoretical children. When we talk about freedom of choice and bodily autonomy, we too often leave out the role economic status plays in attaining this freedom. This is particularly important for Latinx women who face the largest income gap and for Black women, who suffer the highest maternal mortality rate and historically bear the brunt of restrictive reproductive policies.
Direct cash support allowed women to make the best decisions for themselves and their families—a concept currently reserved for the wealthy in America.
Reinstating the expanded CTC would also offer women the financial support to leave abusive relationships, as financial insecurity is the primary obstacle to escape. A report from FreeFrom, an organization working at the intersection of intimate partner violence and financial stability, cited cash as the most effective way to help survivors—especially those who are undocumented and unable to access many other programs. The expanded CTC also included mixed status families, giving undocumented parents the ability to receive the benefit on behalf of their citizen child. Additionally, survivors named federal aid in the form of stimulus payments and tax refunds as the easiest and safest way to access the funds they needed to secure their safety.
Whether it’s providing for the family they already have, enabling them to decide when or whether to build a family at all, or helping them escape a dangerous relationship; cash aid as offered in the expanded CTC was a game-changer and an important step toward gender equality. Recognizing the racism embedded within our health and economic systems, the policy is especially crucial for women of color.
The passage of such a program is an important signal policymakers can send to show there are at least some who believe we are truly deserving to be economically secure and in control of our lives and bodies. It is also more needed than ever, with those who can least afford it facing rising costs on everything from groceries to gas. Even moderate economists agree that the expanded CTC is a necessary tool to help families fight higher prices, and will not add to inflationary pressure.
The religious right’s obsession with forced birth is rooted in anti-Blackness stemming from segregation and has more to do with controlling women and limiting their choices versus actually caring about their theoretical children.
But, the expanded CTC is only a start.
The uncomfortable truth that many do not want to acknowledge, including some supporters of the CTC, is that it passed in the first place with relatively little fight because of the narrative we hold dear in America that children are innocent and do not deserve to suffer—what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., aptly referred to as the violence of poverty. This is undoubtedly true, but we must confront the anti-Blackness and sexism that is the natural extension of that argument—that we view adults, especially Black women, as deserving of poverty’s violence.
Passing the expanded CTC is certainly not a silver bullet solution to the seemingly endless problems women face in this country. But, it is an important step in our long and painful journey to create a country that offers equity, freedom and autonomy to all.
Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.