Members Only | December 19, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Republicans don’t serve their states. They immiserate them

Why are people from states with the worst child poverty problems determined to kill the Child Tax Credit expansion program?

With Joe Manchin's help.
With Joe Manchin's help.

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Joe Biden and the Democrats are desperately trying to salvage the Child Tax Credit expansion, which pulled millions of children out of poverty.

Reducing child poverty is especially beneficial to families in red states, where poverty is most entrenched. Yet opposition to the expansion has come from Republicans and from red-state Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Pundits and Republicans often claim that Democrats are out of touch with the working class and need to cater more to rural red-state voters. Yet it is red state politicians who are working tirelessly to impoverish children in their own states. In this, as in many things, the GOP is not the party fighting for red states. It’s the party fighting to immiserate them.

A most hopeful policy
As I’ve said before in the Editorial Board, the Child Tax Credit — or Social Security for children — was one of Biden’s most successful and hopeful policies.

The Child Tax Credit (CTC) was instituted in 1997 in limited form. But the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 turned the program into what was essentially a sweeping basic-income provision for poor families with children. 

Republicans claim to speak for authentic rural America. But the policies they promote very deliberately keep rural people and their children in desperate circumstances.

Annual payments increased from $2,000 to $3,600 per child under 6 and $3,000 per child ages 6-17. A loophole excluding parents with the lowest incomes was closed. And checks were sent monthly, rather than at the end of the year in a lump sum.

The program only lasted for six months. But in that brief time, child poverty cratered. Food insufficiency went down by a quarter. Three million children were kept out of poverty for each month the program continued.

Then the CTC ran out and could not be renewed because of opposition from Manchin and the GOP. Quickly, 3.7 million children fell back into poverty

Manchin’s opposition is especially painful because West Virginia has the fourth-highest child poverty rate in the nation; 23.1 percent of children live below the poverty line.

Mississippi has the worst poverty rate for children at 27.6 percent. Louisiana is second with 26.3 percent. Others in the top 10 are Alabama, Kentucky, Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee. The only blue state on the list is New Mexico, in third place at 25.6  percent.

Reducing child poverty is obviously good in itself. But there is reason to believe that the policy had strong additional benefits, especially in red states where child poverty is most entrenched.

The libertarian Niskanen Center projected that the expanded credit could increase consumer spending by $27 billion since families who received the money were not in a position to save it, but would quickly spend it on necessities. They estimated state and local tax revenues would rise by $1.9 billion.

The consumer spending boost would be greatest overall in large states like Texas, Florida and California. But the states that would benefit most proportionally were those with the lowest average incomes like Mississippi, Arkansas, and Idaho.

More like excuses
Despite the fact that red states would likely see disproportionate benefits, Republicans are still opposing the CTC while Democrats are attempting to find some way to renew it.

House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat,  said that Democrats were trying to include the CTC in a bill intended to make it easier for businesses to get a tax write off for research and development expenses.

Meanwhile, Biden has indicated a willingness to negotiate with Manchin, who has insisted he would block the CTC program unless it has work and income requirements.  

Manchin says he’s worried the CTC will lead people to stop working and will encourage laziness. But it’s not clear why we should punish children because of the behavior of their parents. And in any case, there’s no evidence that the CTC reduced employment among those who received it. 

On the contrary, employment declined after the CTC was withdrawn, possibly because parents could no longer afford to pay for childcare or lost access to transportation.

Manchin and Republicans have also expressed concerns about the possible inflationary effects of CTC. This is a case, though, where we know that the most needy people — children in poverty — are substantially helped by the policy. An increase in inflation seems like a small price to pay for pulling children out of poverty. 

And if spending is a concern, we could couple the CTC with a tax on the wealthy in order to ensure revenue neutrality. 

Republican objections sound less like reasons backed by evidence or strong moral principle, and more like excuses. 

The politics of cruelty
We have a program that is proven to quickly lift millions of children out of poverty with virtually no downside. Why are people from states with the worst child poverty problems determined to kill that program?

The question answers itself. 

Republican politicians have long devoted themselves to entrenching poverty and crushing those in need in their own states. 

They oppose the CTC for the same reason that they have fought to prevent Medicaid expansion under the ACA, contributing to rural hospital closures and exacerbating the covid health crisis. 

They oppose it for the same reason that they have repealed abortion rights, even though denying women abortion access impoverishes them and their children.

Manchin’s determination to keep children of West Virginia in poverty is in line with the longstanding and successful Republican effort to keep the people of Mississippi, Louisiana, West Virginia and other red states poor, ill and desperate. 

Republicans claim to speak for authentic rural America. But the policies they promote very deliberately keep rural people and their children in desperate circumstances. 

The people in power in red states keep hold of it by enforcing a brutal hierarchy. Poor people, women and Black people must be constantly crushed and humiliated to keep Manchin and his GOP cronies in office.

The politics of cruelty have a strong hold, and Republicans are not likely to lose power in Mississippi anytime soon. 

But we should be clear that their politics are not based on some sort of true understanding of the needs of working people. They’re built on refusing to help those who need help in their state, and on forcing children into poverty. 

Noah Berlatsky writes about the political economy for the Editorial Board. He lives in Chicago. Find him @nberlat.

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