The federal Child Tax Credit provides welcome financial relief to families with dependent children at tax time — except those families that struggle most to provide the basics, like food, diapers, clothes and shoes for kids who sometimes seem to grow overnight.

Any parent can attest that raising children is expensive. But the glaring irony is the country’s lowest-income households don’t earn enough to receive the full annual credit intended to offset those costs. The proposed American Family Act would close that gap.

Columbia researchers predict the act would lift an estimated 4 million American children — 65,000 in Washington state — out of poverty. It would slash deep poverty among children — defined as below 50% of the poverty threshold — in half.

The proposal could not come at a better time, nearly a year into a pandemic that has wreaked havoc with employment, family health and finances. Eight million Americans fell into poverty from last May through October, according to researchers from Columbia University. The wolf still is at the door.

The current Child Tax Credit, up to $2,000 per child, is subtracted from filers’ federal income tax bill. That excludes low-income families who do not owe enough tax to claim the entire deduction. Disproportionately, those left out are Black and Hispanic children, families with young children, those headed by women and in rural areas.

The American Family Act, co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, would increase the Child Tax Credit to up to $3,600 a year, per child, for children under age 6 and $3,000 for each child aged 6-17. The credit would be refundable, so families would receive the full amount regardless of tax owed. And it would be paid monthly, offering timely financial help with monthly bills like groceries, rent, child care and other expenses. The once-yearly bonus would be transformed into a practical source of funds.


The American Family Act would do more than tweak dry tax policy. It would offer struggling families a lifeline. That resonates with DelBene, whose family fell on hard times when her father lost his job when she was in fourth grade. She said the safety net has fallen behind.

“There are fewer opportunities for young people than I had,” she said recently.

She’s right. Congress should quickly usher important family relief into law.