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Guest column: Montana’s children deserve an equitable economic recovery

| October 24, 2021 1:51 PM

As Congress continues to work toward a deal on a budget reconciliation package, Montana’s delegation, including Sens. Daines and Tester, have an opportunity to show they truly understand the economic difficulties families face by passing a budget that ensures an equitable economic recovery.

As pediatricians, we know that the stakes for children are high. Think of everything they have had to go through the past few years. A child who started kindergarten in 2019 is now in the second grade and has never experienced a regular school year. Nearly every family is struggling, and we know that not everyone is experiencing the same hardships. For some, the pressure of balancing school, child care and work makes keeping food on the table and a roof over their heads very challenging.

Childhood is a critical window for development, setting the trajectory of health for the rest of one’s life. Research consistently shows that poverty, food insecurity and other economic hardships threaten healthy growth for children. This can lead to poor health outcomes, which in turn can have lasting effects on their well-being.

Unfortunately, child poverty impacts one in four households in Montana. These children are more likely to live in households with parents who lack secure employment. Families living on low incomes have especially benefited from the recent changes to the Child Tax Credit (CTC).

The CTC is a game-changer. Critical improvements to the CTC passed in the American Rescue Plan Act, which Sen. Tester supported, include expanding eligibility to low-income families and allowing monthly payments. For qualifying parents with a 4-year-old, it means $300 a month. Approximately 198,000 of Montana’s children currently receive monthly payments through the CTC.

The credit can help cover roughly 40 percent of average monthly child care costs, or it could equal up to a month’s worth of food for a child. Data shows that parents are using the credit to pay for essentials, like rent, utilities and educational opportunities. Another essential feature is its potential to support employment, as many can now afford child care or better transportation, making them more likely to find and keep a job.

Early data on the impact of the CTC is promising. Recent research shows the CTC payments are reducing food insecurity, which is strongly associated with short- and long-term health outcomes. The credit is projected to cut child poverty by nearly half across the U.S and is already having a positive impact on rural communities.

Before the expansion of the CTC, more than one-third (78,000) of all children in Montana belonged to families that earned too little money to receive full CTC benefits. The expansion ensures families with the lowest incomes are eligible and boosts the amount of the credit. However, it is set to expire at the end of 2021. The expanded credit would lift 45 percent of Montana’s children and 55 percent of children of color out of poverty. Congress must act swiftly to extend these provisions and pursue a more racially equitable policy by reinstating eligibility for young DREAMers.

The health of Montana’s kids requires bold investments in evidence-based policies. A permanent child tax credit available to all children would lift millions of children out of poverty, improve health, advance racial equity, provide tax relief for many families and bolster local communities. On behalf of the kids we work with every day, we urge our Congressional delegation to put Montana children first and stand up for this transformative and visionary support for families.

— Dr. John Cole, Kalispell pediatrician, president, Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Dr. Emily Hall, Polson pediatrician, MTAAP member; Dr. Lauren Wilson, Missoula pediatrician, MTAAP vice president; Dr. Pepper Henyon, Bozeman pediatrician, MTAAP past president; Dr. Erin Allen, Billings pediatrician, MTAAP Early Childhood Chapter champion; Dr. Teresa Blaskovich, Billings pediatrician, MTAAP secretary-treasurer; Dr. Erin Green, Helena pediatrician, MTAAP member at large; Dr. Jordan LeJeune, Great Falls pediatrician, MTAAP member at large