A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: It’s Santa Claus for the wealthy and Grinch for the kids, if McConnell has his way

Former Congressman Barney Frank, an acerbic Massachusetts Democrat, once chided the anti-abortion crowd for believing that “life begins at conception and ends at birth.”

Frank’s point was, as usual, sharp – pro-lifers demand that a pregnant woman bring a fetus to term but ignore the needs of the child after delivery, regardless of whether or not the new mother has the wherewithal, financial or otherwise, to provide the infant with a proper upbringing.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Louisville, and the rest of the GOP caucus in the upper chamber, are bringing new meaning to Frank’s famously caustic remark. Provided with an opportunity to extend the child tax credit, initially adopted as a means of providing aid to needy families during the COVID-19 pandemic, the gang that infamously falls on its knees every time the truly wealthy cry poverty, are telling the kids they’re on their own.

Basically, their message is not my pig, not my farm.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

To Mitch’s way of thinking, the initiative to reduce childhood poverty is nothing short of a burdensome handout. Referring to the provision in President Biden’s proposed spending package that includes monthly payments of up to $300 per child to most families earning under $150,000 annually, McConnell said the “next reckless spending spree proposes to double down on Democrats’ new monthly welfare deposits that can flow directly to people who are here illegally.”

Forget, for a moment, the snide reference to undocumented aliens, always the first refuge for conservative bigotry, and focus on the fact that McConnell is objecting to and demeaning as “new monthly welfare deposits,” a proposal that The Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University in New York estimates could reduce child poverty in America by up to 40 percent.

The problem is particularly acute in Kentucky. As of 2019, the child poverty rate was 21.7 percent, fifth highest in the nation. More recently, the Center determined that the COVID-19 crisis has exacted “a dual toll on youth and young adults, with education and employment opportunities severely disrupted.”

“But even pre-pandemic, young people were in a precarious financial position. They were more likely to live below the poverty line compared to the general population and the only group to see their poverty rise over the last 50 years.”

In June, children living in poverty in the U.S. was placed at 15.8 percent, nearly 13 million kids. In 2018, a family of two adults and two children were officially living in poverty if their annual household earnings fell below $25,465.

This doesn’t mark the first time McConnell sought to turn his back on poor children. The child tax credit was initially included in the American Rescue Plan, adopted by Congress and signed into law in March, that initiated direct payments to qualified families beginning in July. Introduced in the lower chamber by Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, chairman of the House Budget Committee, it was sold as an initiative to accelerate the recovery from the impact of the pandemic.

It is here that we note that the plan received no support from Republicans in either the House or Senate. McConnell led the opposition in the upper chamber, requiring that the measure be passed under reconciliation, rendering it safe from filibuster. At the time he complained the measure would “break the link between work and income” by making it available to people with no earnings.

Of course, the jobless, or those with low-paying jobs, are the people who need the credit the most. Apparently, the senator views families living below the poverty line as pikers, a bunch of deadbeats lulling around to live off a $300 government check.

Maybe we can change the child labor laws so 4-year-olds can support themselves.

“This is an example of the difference between a Democratic and a Republican majority in the Senate,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, at the time of passage. “As Leader McConnell openly reminds everyone, not a single Republican voted in favor of expanding the Child Tax Credit through the American Rescue Plan. I am so proud that Democrats found a way to help American families, help American kids with a brighter, stronger future, despite Republican opposition.”

The payments, which began on July 15, carried an immediate positive impact. According to the Center on Poverty and Social Policy, the number of children in poverty fell by 3 million as a result. A month later, in August, the Center reported that the second monthly payment pushed 3.5 million children out of poverty and the rate declined from 11.9 percent in July to 11.5 percent.

Without the child tax credit the Center estimated that the child poverty rate in August would have reached 16.2 percent.

In September, child poverty actually climbed to 13.2 percent as the result of the expiration of expanded unemployment benefits and the rollback of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in some states. But the Child Tax Credit contributed to a 4.6 percentage point reduction in child poverty compared to what the monthly poverty rate in September otherwise would have been.

All told, about 60 million families have received the benefit.

The bad news is the credit is due to expire on Jan.1, resulting in the potential for millions of kids being plunged back into poverty. If McConnell has his way, that’s precisely what will happen.

It should be noted that McConnell isn’t the only person opposed to extending the credit, just the most prominent. The proposal to make it permanent was included in the administration’s $3.5 trillion spending plan. But negotiators proved unable to get all 50 Senate Democrats in agreement. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WVa, apparently is among those who thinks most mothers and fathers salivate at the notion of laying out on the couch, eating cheese poofs and watching “Dancing With the Stars” while pocketing their child’s $300. So the new bill, about $1.75 trillion, includes a provision to extend the credit through 2022.

Not good enough but it’s something.

And on those undocumented aliens Mitch is all aquiver about, only those who file tax returns may qualify but only if they can claim a child who is a U.S. citizen or a legal resident. That number should be negligible. But that’s what McConnell is hanging his hat on.

McConnell may call it welfare but he’s really welfare king of another sort, helping to guide the Trump administration’s $2 trillion tax cut in 2017 that went primarily to the already wealthy and businesses. And he is violently opposed raising taxes on the ridiculously rich in order to pay for the Biden administration’s spending program that includes the tax credit.

Santa Claus for the wealthy, the Grinch for poor kids wondering where their next meal is coming from. At least coal in the stocking can be good for the Commonwealth’s native industry.

This is the guy voters in the Commonwealth keep sending to Washington.

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  1. Richard says:

    Even families with children making over 150,000 are getting the monthly payments per child. They are also getting free school lunch and breakfast. Why? Could it be that the democrats want to make this give away more palatable for the middle class? Its government waste at its finest. and welfare for all. America cant afford it. Current American debt stands at: 23.3 trillion. Democrats want to add 1.75 trillion and don’t have a way to pay for it.

  2. Mike Hardig says:

    Can you define what ridiculously rich means? I assume that means any couple making over $400,000 per year to you.

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