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Nearly 350,000 Missouri children are too poor to qualify for full child tax credit

A staff member at Ashland Elementary School in St. Louis watches over a student sitting on a dimly lit staircase.
Ryan Delaney
St. Louis Public Radio
Santana Barnes, right, watches over a student sitting on the steps at Ashland Elementary School on Jan. 7, 2019, in north St. Louis.

A new report released this week found that nearly 350,000 Missouri children are in families with incomes too low to qualify for the full federal child tax credit — with children of color and children in rural areas particularly likely to fall through the cracks.

Many of the lowest-income families nationally earn too little to qualify for the $2,000 federal benefit for each child, which is tied to a family’s earnings and income taxes. It is a policy design advocates have long argued excludes the most vulnerable children.

For six months last year, the federal government expanded the program, including by making the full amount available to children in the lowest-income families. Research widely found the expansion lifted children from poverty and reduced food insecurity.

“The success of the 2021 expansion showed us that high child poverty rates are a policy choice, not an inevitability,” according to researchers from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan policy institute.

But Congress failed to make the reform permanent, and the changes expired in January.

Without federal action to expand the program, CBPP researchers argue policymakers will “unnecessarily push more children back into poverty.”

Child poverty is “likely to return to the same level as it was pre-pandemic,” they wrote.

Roughly 345,000 Missouri children are now excluded from receiving the full $2,000 child tax credit in Missouri, according to the report.

Of those 345,000 Missouri children in the gap, nearly a quarter are Black — roughly 10 percentage points higher than the overall population of Black children in Missouri. The percentage of Latino and American Indian/Alaska Native children in families who make too little to qualify for the benefit is also higher than population data would predict, in Missouri and nationally.

This follows broader trends of families of color being “overrepresented among families with incomes below the poverty line,” according to a Brookings study on the child tax credit from April.

Children living in rural areas are also more likely to be left out of the full child tax credit, which the CBPP report attributes to generally lower pay in rural areas. In Missouri, 34% of children living in rural areas are left out of the full credit while 24% of children living in metro areas are left out.

These numbers are roughly on par with national averages, which are 32% of children in rural areas left out, and 26% in metro areas.

Other early data suggests many of the improvements from last year’s child tax credit expansion have already been lost. According to Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy, child poverty rose nationally from 12% in December 2021 to 17% in January 2022. In August, the most recent data available, the national child poverty rate was 17%.

A study in the Journal of American Medical Associationlast month found expanded payments in 2021 were associated with a 26% decrease in food insufficiency among households with children. But in the six months following expiration of the expanded program, food insufficiency increased by roughly the same amount. The gains were lost.

The JAMA researchers wrote that without further congressional action “reductions in food insufficiency, poverty, and inequity…may continue to erode.”

This story was originally published by the Missouri Independent, part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

Clara Bates covers social services and poverty for The Missouri Independent.