Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., speaks about the child tax credit during a news conference with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., far right, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, center, accompanied by faith leaders, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / AP

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With inaction in Congress, the expansion of a tax provision that is credited with reducing childhood poverty and hunger expired at the end of 2020. Democrats had hoped that the expanded child tax credit would be extended with passage of the Build Back Better plan.

With the stalling of President Joe Biden’s spending plan, the fate of the more generous child tax credit looks bleak, which is bad news for the millions of families who received a financial boost last year. In Maine, about four out of five kids live in households benefiting from expanded credit, according t o the progressive Maine Center for Economic Policy. The vast majority of low-income families receiving the benefit said they used it to pay for necessities – most often food, and the biggest benefits went to rural areas.

Crafting a replacement – and paying for it – should be a priority for lawmakers in Washington.

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican, has offered a proposal for a new, more generous credit that has recently gained attention. Under his Family Security Act, qualified families could receive $250 a month for each school-aged child and $350 per month for children up to the age of 6. The payments would start four months before the birth of a child. These new payments would be a recognition that families bear additional costs before a child’s birth.

 “We’re going to work with anybody who’s interested in taking steps to lower costs for the American people, whether it’s on child care or elder care or healthcare,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in December, when asked about Romney’s recent statements about moving ahead with the child credit as Build Back Better stalled.

Sen. Susan Collins  say s she is open to considering Romney’s proposal, which breathes new life into an extension of the child tax credit. In a statement to the BDN, she reiterated her support for provisions in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, “that benefitted working families, such as the creation of a new tax credit for eligible employers that offer paid family and medical leave to their employees, doubling the maximum child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000, and making up to $1,400 of the child tax credit refundable.”

“There are a number of proposals worthy of consideration, such as Senator Romney’s plan to reform the CTC and other proposals. I am open to considering proposals that would support working families and reduce childhood poverty and look forward to working with colleagues of both parties on bipartisan solutions,” Collins said in the statement.

Under the temporary expansion, which was part of the American Recovery Act passed by Democrats in Congress in March, the maximum value of the benefit rose from $2,000 to $3,600 per child under age 6 and $3,000 for older children. The credit became fully refundable, meaning it’s paid out in full even if someone owes less than that amount in taxes.

The 2021 changes also made it so the benefit was automatically paid in cash each month beginning in July, rather than paid as a lump sum when taxes are filed.

Without action from Congress, the benefit reverts to the 2017 law parameters and it will shrink down to $1,000 at most per child after 2025, when the GOP tax law benefits expire.

Democrats are understandably wary of peeling off popular pieces of the Build Back Better plan knowing that if the most popular parts are passed on their own, the overall package has little chance of passage. It is also worth noting that while Democrats tout the benefits of the credit, they funded it for only a year as part of the Recovery Act, which is why it is now ending.

Romney’s plan isn’t perfect, but it is a good starting point for a bipartisan plan to restart a child tax credit that brings meaningful help to millions of American families, especially as another wave of COVID-19 spreads across the country.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...