The final tax bill signed by President Bush in May was skewed largely toward those who need help least, but it contained an important touch of fairness for children and families. The Child Tax Credit in the new tax cut legislation allows families with earnings of more than $10,000 to receive a refund check even if they do not owe federal income taxes.
This means that nearly 17 million children in low-income working families will get more than they would have under Bushs original proposal. While child advocates did not get everything we sought in a refundable tax credit for all children in need, the version passed is a major step forward that will help lift 500,000 children out of poverty.
The Child Tax Credit will increase gradually from $500 to $1,000 per child. A bipartisan group of senators led by Republican Olympia Snowe and Democrat Blanche Lambert Lincoln fought to include a provision allowing many low-income families to share in the benefits of the tax cut. For example, a family with children and $12,000 in earnings will receive a refund check of $200. A family with earnings of $22,000 and two children will receive $600 per child, the maximum value of the credit in 2001. Starting in 2005, families with children may claim a credit of 15 percent of earnings over $10,000. The next step is making the tax credit fully refundable, which is a top priority of the Act to Leave No Child Behind, the comprehensive piece of legislation addressing key childrens needs introduced in Congress May 23 by Sen. Chris Dodd and Rep. George Miller.
This springs vote was an important victory for millions of American families who struggle daily with the costs of raising children, and it happened largely because of the hard work of child advocates from around the country. Religious leaders (Call to Renewal members prominent among them) joined with groups representing women, low-income people, racial and ethnic minorities, and other advocates. It shows how powerful we can be when we come together to work for change.
The victory proves that it is possible to make the changes that will really leave no child behind in our countrythey just need to be backed by moral and political will. This was an important down payment on the debt we owe all American children.
Marian Wright Edelman is president and founder of the Childrens Defense Fund, a national childrens advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.