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The Democrats' transformational policy with a wonky name

"Child tax-credit payments" may sound boring, but it's a transformational policy that will help tens of millions of American families.


It's likely that many Americans will hear the words "child tax-credit payments," shrug their shoulders, and move on. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) suggested yesterday that the cash assistance to U.S. families should instead be called "Biden Bucks," which is certainly catchier.

But whatever people call the policy, it's important that the public recognize just how dramatic this approach to governance really is. NBC News reported:

Most eligible families in the U.S. will get their first monthly payments of the expanded child tax credit Thursday. The payments, which were included in the American Rescue Plan, change an existing tax credit by expanding the eligibility pool and increasing the money families get.

When Democrats passed their COVID relief package earlier this year -- without a single Republican vote -- it included all kinds of investments related to the pandemic, but it also included aid to families at levels unseen in modern American history.

And one of the core centerpieces of the American Rescue Plan was this new and generous tax break that will go to most of the nation's parents. Indeed, nearly nine in 10 children -- totaling roughly 60 million American kids -- will now qualify for the new monthly payments of up to $250 per child, $300 for those under the age of six. (Only the most wealthy families are ineligible.)

To be sure, some logistical challenges have emerged. The IRS is helping administer the program, and it's been criticized for creating a difficult-to-navigate website for low-income families. The administration has conceded getting the money to some hard-to-reach families -- most notably those without direct-deposit -- remains difficult.

But while those challenges are addressed, the big picture is striking in its scope. A Washington Post report noted, "The Biden administration on Thursday is launching the biggest anti-poverty program undertaken by the federal government in more than a half-century, delivering monthly payments to the overwhelming majority of American parents for the first time."

The New York Times called it "a milestone in social policy," and quoted Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) describing the child tax-credit payments as "the most transformative policy coming out of Washington since the days of F.D.R."

The article added, "Experts estimate the payments will cut child poverty by nearly half, an achievement with no precedent."

The fact that literally zero congressional Republicans voted for the policy is the sort of detail that Democrats will likely emphasize, over and over again, as families continue to receive the benefit. (Be on the lookout for GOP lawmakers pretending that they had something to do with the checks.)

Looking ahead, this program will expire next year, but President Biden has pushed to extend the benefits for four years -- a measure the White House expects to see in the Democrats' infrastructure package, the framework for which was unveiled yesterday.

While we wait to see if that happens, the shift in the political context is important. I'm reminded of something Chris Hayes told Rachel in March, as the Democrats' relief package became law: "[I]t feels like we drove a stake through a certain kind of anti-welfare austerity politics that was incredibly powerful for four to five decades.... The kind of marking of an era of transition to the politics of government support and investment to me is as significant as anything that I've seen in the time I've covered politics."

It wasn't long ago when Republicans would've condemned a policy like this as "welfare," at which point nervous Democrats would've balked. "What are we going to do, just give working families money to help stabilize their finances?" GOP lawmakers would ask. "Is Congress prepared to simply throw money at parents?"

Thankfully, in 2021, the answer to both of these questions is, "Yes."