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‘We’re drowning’: Parents fear what’s coming with end of child tax credit

As the child tax credit expires, five parents open up about how the payment has helped their families.
Parents are sharing how the credit helped them care for their families during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 
Parents are sharing how the credit helped them care for their families during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. TODAY Illustration / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that on the last day of 2021, the monthly child tax credit payments expired.

As COVID-19 cases continue to surge due to the highly contagious omicron variant, parents are facing the first month they have not received child tax credit advance payments since they were established. Part of The American Rescue Plan enacted in March 2021, the child tax credit was increased for more than 65 million U.S. children and established recurring monthly payments.

The last payment went out to qualified families on Dec. 15, after President Biden's Build Back Better bill failed to pass in the Senate. President Biden and Senate Democrats have been unable to secure enough votes to pass the bill, which includes extending the monthly child tax credit payments. In Dec. 2021, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the Biden administration is considering doubling payments in February — if the Build Back Better bill is passed and signed into law in January — to account for the lapse.

A reported 59% of parents used the advance payments to pay for food, according to a Center on Budget Priorities analysis of U.S. Census Bureau Data. The same analysis found that 52% of parents used the credit to pay for utilities, 45% used the funds to pay for rent or their mortgage and 44% purchased clothing.

As families adjust to the loss of the monthly payments, and return to pre-pandemic Child Tax Credit rules, TODAY Parents spoke to five parents who say the monthly payments helped them care for their families — and how they will be impacted if they do not return.

Fatima Shabbir, 49, New York

Fatima has been a single, disabled mom to her 16-year-old son for over 13 years. Relying on a fixed income, Fatima does not receive child support to help her pay for her son's necessities.

"Having that extra $250 meant the world to me. The fact that I'm going to be losing it just as fast as it came is devastating. Last year during the pandemic when everything was remote, my son's laptop died. When you're earning less than $760 a month and your high school kid's laptop dies, how do you pay for it? I paid for it by purchasing a computer on sale on a payment plan, otherwise I would not have been able to afford to buy him what he needed for school. 

"I'm not unaccustomed to rationing my own food so my child can eat. There have been times when I've had to brush off my own needs, even my own health, to make sure that he was getting what he needed. That's what a mother does. I'm already not able to see certain doctors of mine that I need to see. I don't own a car, so I can't travel far. All of this adds up to the quality of my well being, both mentally and physically, and that does impact how I can care for my son as well.

"Just as things get harder to survive, I am going to be losing something that has helped us survive."

Everardo Leon, 44, New Mexico

Everardo has a 5-year-old daughter and works as a teacher. His partner is a stay-at-home mom.

"At first, I thought $300 a month wasn't going to be very helpful, but as the year has progressed, it has been really helpful. Before the credit, I was teaching at every after-school program I possibly could, just for the extra income. My paycheck is the only income that we have, so it's just allowed me to be at home more so that I can spend quality time with my daughter. I also have aging parents that require me to take off time from work.

"The majority of the credit paid for food for my daughter. She has a dairy and soy intolerance, so most of the food that we purchase is organic, which is much more expensive. The rest covers the cost of things like electricity, which fluctuates, and fuel for the family vehicle.

"I've been preparing for the credit to expire, so I'd say we'll be OK for about three to four months, and then I'll worry again. I'm just hoping nothing catastrophic happens in our lives, and that there'll be a summer program that I can teach."

Ryan Egnaczyk, 38, Pennsylvania

Ryan is an elementary school teacher and father of two children, ages 4 and 1. His wife is a dental hygienist.

"The child tax credit provides my family with an offset to our biggest two expenditures — our mortgage and our daycare expenses. Sending two kids to daycare costs slightly more than our mortgage each month. The peace of mind the past few months, knowing that I can use the child tax credit to help pay our mortgage and ease the load of daycare and other expenditures, has been such a positive, especially in this uncertain time.

I don’t want to make it sound like we are a struggling family, because we are not. We can afford to pay our bills, and losing the CTC will not put us in any serious financial danger. But I still have student loan debt, and my kids will continue to be in daycare for years to come. My wife does not have the luxury of paid sick days, so if she doesn't work, she doesn't get paid. The past two years, we have both had to take more time off than usual because of daycare closures and potential exposures to COVID-19."

Tarina Peterson, 39, California

Tarina is self-employed and has a 3-year-old daughter. Her husband works in technical support.

“We moved in with my in-laws to have more of a support system after having our kid, and our budget has always been pretty tight. The child tax credit helped pay for a preschool we found within our budget, allowed her to enroll our daughter in gymnastics, and covered Christmas presents. Three-hundred dollars goes a long way.

“Our child isn’t old enough to get vaccinated, so we’re limited on where we can bring her. We were so fortunate to find a preschool that holds classes outside — she’s a little extrovert, so that social aspect is so important.

“If the child tax credit goes away, some of those activities will too. Our grocery budget is going to be tighter. We’re going to have to cut corners. Like typical millennial parents, we’re drowning in debt."

Brian Russel, 37, Florida

Brian is a web content manager by day and a cartoonist by night. He has three children, ages 10, 7 and 5, with his wife, Mary, who works as a substitute teacher.

"Over the last 18 months, we’ve had a bunch of unexpected bills, a pay cut for me for a few months, and last year we had the kids all home for virtual learning. This all was a major strain on our already tight budget. When the child tax credit began, it was a welcomed addition to our monthly income because it helped us to buy groceries and pay our bills where we’d been having to cut corners. We were living paycheck to paycheck before the child tax credit.

"With the money going away, we’re going to go back to scraping by each month as we try to dig back out from the hole the pandemic has put us in.

"I’m really not ready, mentally and emotionally, to go back to living paycheck to paycheck ... We’re not even the worst off, and we’re definitely going to feel it. It’s going to leave an $800 hole in our budget."