Imposing Work Requirements on the Child Tax Credit Do Nothing to Reduce Poverty or Incentivize Work

The expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) has been one of the largest opportunities to reduce poverty in decades, but the long-term impact of this legislation is tied to who can access this assistance.  

Introduced as part of the American Rescue Plan, the expanded CTC has already lifted 3.5 million children out of poverty with just two checks. An estimated 4.3 million children could be lifted out of poverty if the CTC is made permanent. It would also effectively narrow economic and racial disparities. This would be a significant win in a country with a history of systematically disenfranchising communities of color. 

But now legislators are trying to restrict access to this critical anti-poverty tool. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) proposed a $60,000 income cap and work requirements be added to the CTC — methods that have been demonstrated to harm families and have minimal impact on employment rates in other anti-poverty programs.1 

Let’s be clear: these requirements are being introduced to divide low-income populations by suggesting that there are “deserving poor” versus “undeserving poor,” and separating communities across race and geography. Rather than ensuring all of the children living in the United States have the resources they need to thrive, our legislators are more concerned with policing and penalizing caregivers. These proposed constraints on the CTC will risk denying families the assistance they need, disregard the value of essential care work, and push some individuals to accept exploitative jobs.  

This is where NCLEJ’s work so often starts.  

“From our experience with work requirements in other government programs, NCLEJ has seen time and again that thousands of families get kicked off a program because of bureaucratic administration that also burdens government workers. No one wins,” notes Saima Akhtar, senior staff attorney. 

The people who lose the most with these eligibility restrictions are families that depend most heavily on the Child Tax Credit. Imposing work requirements will have a disparate impact on parents with disabilities, individuals living on a fixed income, households who are headed by grandparents, and individuals experiencing homelessness

Imposing work requirements also fails to address the realities of low-wage workers: fluctuating hours and scheduling inconsistencies that are out of their control. Often workers lack job stability and are not able to meet with the last-minute demand. Furthermore, governmental agencies are forced into a bureaucratic onus of tracking and certifying the work requirements, causing further delays in approvals. This is a set up to make both the CTC program and the families in the program fail. 

“We as a country need to start by saying that we believe and want to fund safety nets that provide for the most vulnerable families. Instead, we operate burdensome programs using policy constraints that don’t help anyone with the goal of driving recipients of assistance off aid or punishing those who stay on. Work requirements do not help anyone,” says staff attorney Katharine Deabler.