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Op-ed

Child poverty is not just a moral failure, it’s a policy choice | GUEST COMMENTARY

Maryland wrapped up its 2022 legislative session this year with a bundle of legislative accomplishments, which included banning untraceable “ghost” guns, expanding rights to abortion access and establishing a statewide paid family and medical leave program. While these changes will likely have a positive impact on the state, they are unlikely to bring about transformational change. As the 2023 session approaches, and Democrats are favored to take back the governorship, it is time for our elected leaders to think of big solutions that will address our state’s biggest problems.

There is perhaps no bigger problem facing our communities than child poverty. Across the state, more than 1 in 7 kids live in poverty. In Baltimore City, where child poverty rates are highest, nearly 1 in 3 kids do. The negative consequences of these statistics are not limited to the children directly experiencing them; child poverty impacts the wider community. Research has shown that child poverty increases crime rates, swells health care costs, worsens educational outcomes and shrinks our overall economy.

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One reason that child poverty rates are so high across the United States is that our child welfare system intentionally leaves out the most vulnerable. The federal Child Tax Credit (CTC) phases in, which means many low-income families do not receive the full, or any, of the benefit. According to research at the Century Foundation, over one third of children in the U.S. are ineligible for the full CTC because their families don’t earn enough to qualify. Only half of Black and Hispanic children receive the full credit.

Federal pandemic relief programs showed that there is a better way. In March 2021, as part of the American Rescue Plan, Democrats increased the CTC from $2,000 per child to $3,000 per child for children over the age of five and to $3,600 for children five or younger. They also removed the phase-in and started cutting monthly checks to parents across the income distribution (except the 12% of families that earned too much to qualify). As a result, child poverty fell more than 25%. Had Congress not let the program expire at the beginning of the year, it would have cut child poverty almost in half.

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Research found that these statistical changes had clear material benefits. Families primarily spent the money on food, essential bills, clothing, school supplies, child care and other expenses that boost child welfare. Food insecurity for families making less than $50,000 dropped by 28%.

One study, inspired by the expanded CTC, found that every $1,000 we spend on cash transfers to parents produces $5,603 in societal benefits — from increased tax revenue, decreased crime rates, lower health care spending, and other future decreases in social welfare costs.

Now, with the expanded CTC gone, millions of children, including thousands across Maryland, have plummeted back into poverty. New research from my colleagues and me at the Maryland Child Alliance shows how Maryland can fill that void. We find that a $200 monthly child allowance (a policy that sends parents a monthly check per child) would cut child poverty by 34% across the state, lifting more than 55,000 kids out of poverty including more than 10,000 in Baltimore City alone.

Our new Child Allowance Dashboard (marylandchildalliance.org/Dashboard) allows you to explore the impact of multiple statewide child allowance programs. It also breaks down the data by county and state legislative district so that state lawmakers can see how a child allowance would directly affect their constituents. For example, in District 46, where I live, a $100 monthly child allowance would cut deep child poverty by 26%. You can use the dashboard to examine your own district or county, and if you feel inspired, reach out to your representatives and encourage them to support new legislation.

The data are clear: Child poverty is not just a moral failure, it’s a policy choice. We have the tools and resources to reduce and eventually eliminate child poverty in the state of Maryland. I hope you will join the Maryland Child Alliance in our call to pass a state level child allowance in the 2023 session.

Nate Golden (nate@marylandchildalliance.org) is a teacher in Baltimore City Schools and president of the Maryland Child Alliance.


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