NJ think tank wants state-level Child Tax Credit, mirroring federal help
The expanded, federal Child Tax Credit that was distributed monthly over the last half of 2021 helped keep 3 million children in the United States out of poverty.
That's according to Whitney Tucker, deputy director of research at the Washington D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who was among the speakers Tuesday as New Jersey Policy Perspective unveiled its proposal for a complementary credit specific to the Garden State.
Lead author Peter Chen said New Jersey politicians always talk about affordability, but surviving in this state remains expensive, with 1 in 10 families living below the poverty level, and 1 in 3 considered low-income.
NJPP's report, "Making New Jersey Affordable for Families: The Case for a State-Level Child Tax Credit," is actually two proposals in one: a Young Child Tax Credit for kids under age 6, and an All Ages Tax Credit for children under 18 and adult dependents up to age 24, including college students.
Those adult children were not covered by the federal Child Tax Credit, and neither were children with Individual Tax Identification Numbers.
"As one of the most diverse states in the country and a state with a high immigrant population, New Jersey has a high number of kids who don't have a Social Security number and who nonetheless are part of the fabric of New Jersey," Chen said.
New Jersey families have seen how this can help them at the federal level, Chen said, and although a state program would theoretically provide less assistance, every dollar counts.
"Both proposals would also direct their benefits heavily to Black and Hispanic and Latinx families, and these families are disproportionately the families who live in poverty in New Jersey," he said.
'The key to return us back to normal'
Combined with the Earned Income Tax Credit, federal pandemic-related help lifted children and families above poverty when things looked bleakest, allowing them to pay for things that are not by definition essential, but still crucial to everyday life.
To illustrate that, single dad Luis Mercado-Rivera, who works with the Trenton-based social services agency Arm in Arm, said Tuesday that he used the funds to pay for new clothes for his son, and car insurance and maintenance for his teenage daughter.
"Here we are, post-pandemic, and the Child Tax Credit could be the key to return us back to normal, at least financially, for a lot of struggling families," Mercado-Rivera said.
Tucker said seven states already have some version of what NJPP is proposing and nine others have introduced similar legislation since 2019.
If New Jersey were to adopt such programs, she said, there would be no shortage of short- and long-term benefits.
"Healthier birth rates, lower maternal stress, better childhood nutrition, higher school enrollment, higher reading and math test scores over time, higher high school graduation rates, less drug and alcohol use, and higher rates of college entry," Tucker said.
NJPP said All Ages, the more expansive of the two proposed credits, stands to impact 792,000 children in 424,000 New Jersey households.