Lifting children out of poverty is key element of 'consistent ethic of life,' say speakers

Participants in a Jan. 16, 2024, Georgetown dialogue on "Promoting a Consistent Ethic of Life: Investing in Low-Income Children and Families" are seen in a combination photo. Clockwise from top left are: Kim Daniels, director of Georgetown's Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, sponsor of the event; Kerry Robinson, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA; Patrick Brown, fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center; Barbara Williams-Skinner, CEO of Skinner Leadership Institute; and Sister Norma Pimentel, a Missionary of Jesus, who is director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. (OSV News photo/courtesy Georgetown University)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) – The proposed enhanced Child Tax Credit released Jan. 16 by a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill received an enthusiastic, if guarded, response from members of a Georgetown University panel held the same day.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and House Ways and Means Committee Chair Jason Smith, R-Mo., announced a $78 billion package which temporarily expands the Child Tax Credit. As part of the negotiation, the package also involves some business tax breaks and increases subsidies for affordable housing and disaster assistance.

The tax credit expansion would increase the maximum credit per child to $2,000 from $1,600 through 2025.

Wyden's statement announcing the proposal touted its bipartisanship, noting it would benefit 15 million children from low-income families, adding that "given today's miserable political climate, it's a big deal to have this opportunity to pass pro-family policy that helps so many kids get ahead."

"There is not a national interest group for parents and young kids" when they are at their most vulnerable, said Patrick Brown, a fellow at the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, during a webinar organized by Georgetown's Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.

Brown, who is part of the center's Life and Family Initiative, which focuses on developing what it calls "a robust pro-family economic agenda," called the recent Child Tax Credit proposal "a modest bipartisan agreement. It's not a revolution in social policy."

The proposed Child Tax Credit amount falls far short of the level of support provided to families during the COVID-19 pandemic that granted eligible recipients $3,000 per child 6-17 years old, and $3,600 per child under 6, and could be received in monthly installments. Lawmakers allowed that expanded version to expire in 2021, despite calls from some Catholic groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to renew it.

As to the new proposed Child Tax Credit's adoption by the full Congress during a presidential election year, Brown was less certain. He said his group has just begun to examine the details.

The Jan. 16 online discussion titled "Promoting a Consistent Ethic of Life," sponsored by Georgetown's Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, focused on families in need and immigrants in advance of the Jan. 19 national March for Life in Washington.

However the issue of abortion heavily intersects with poverty in the U.S., making the expanded Child Tax Credit potentially a powerful tool to save unborn lives, particularly in states where abortion is likely to remain legal for the foreseeable future.

The abortion research firm Guttmacher Institute reported 75% of women seeking abortion were low-income, with 50% below the federal poverty line. About six out of 10 women seeking abortion were already mothers. The reported top concerns for these women involved not being able to afford another child, losing the ability to work or continue education, or having to care for dependents or other family responsibilities.

In an article for Public Discourse, demographer and Institute for Family Studies research fellow Lyman Stone predicted the U.S. could reduce the abortion rate by 5% – with potentially 40,000 babies born a year that otherwise would be victims of abortion – by providing direct cash transfers to parents and building on the pandemic-era Child Tax Credit provisions.

"When people hear 'life,' they think we're talking about abortion only," said Barbara Williams-Skinner, CEO of Skinner Leadership Institute, co-convener of the National African American Clergy Network and co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Prayer Breakfast.

"I'm not saying you have to change your language. Communication is not about what people say … but what they've heard," she said.

Observing that polls show that 200 million Americans agree with the statement "I believe in God," she added, "If that's true, we ought to be collectively repenting today ... about the way we treat the poor."

"Sadly," she added, "in 2024, we're going to be compelled to get out of the politics, to think about these issues, and deal with the moral order – the teachings of Jesus."

Sr. Norma Pimental, a Missionary of Jesus, who is director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, and on the front line of the immigration crisis, also called for a focus on "the dignity of every person," remembering their "right to exist" and refusing the idea "we just push aside people based on who we are."

"It is true," she added, "and the only way we can do it is to be present to them."

"Our faith we should not hide, but we should bring it forward," Sister Norma said.

To this point, Wiliams-Skinner said, "We don't have a beef with immigrants. We don't think they 'poison the blood' of humanity," a reference to recent remarks by former President Donald Trump. "We don't think that."

Kerry Alys Robinson, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, which also is examining the 2024 Child Tax Credit proposal, said it "should prioritize the poorest children in our country."

She said the previous, expired version of the tax credit "played a significant role" in lifting children out of poverty.

Converting the Child Tax Credit into monthly payments again "isn't going to happen anytime soon," Brown said.

But politics "is always the art of the possible," so he predicted the credit could be adopted if members of Congress don't get into the counterproductive position of "a purity fight."


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