Joe Manchin Thinks Parents Should Have To Work For Child Tax Credit

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) suggested Sunday that he’s fundamentally opposed to a key part of the Democratic agenda: monthly benefits for parents.

Since July, the federal government has been sending most parents monthly cash payments, a revolutionary policy that could slash child poverty ― but the payments will stop after December if Congress doesn’t pass a new law to keep them going.

Manchin voted for the American Rescue Plan, which started the payments, but is now evidently having second thoughts, saying the program should be more “need-based” and helpful to parents.

“There’s no work requirements whatsoever,” Manchin said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” where he outlined his opposition to his party’s plans for higher corporate taxes to pay for more social spending.

“There’s no education requirements whatsoever, for better skill sets,” Manchin said. “Don’t you think, if we’re going to help the children, that the people should make some effort?”

The monthly payments are technically advance payments of the child tax credit, which had previously provided refunds at tax time for some families. One of the key changes that Democrats made to the credit was to eliminate the earnings requirement, allowing people to receive payments even if they had no income.

Spokespeople for Manchin did not respond to a request for clarification, but if the senator thinks it’s a problem that there are no “work requirements,” it’s possible he believes Congress should bring back the earnings requirement.

Requiring earnings would cut off the poorest parents and probably water down the policy’s poverty-reduction power. Among wealthy countries, the U.S. has had one of the highest child poverty rates, partly because it was one of the only countries without a child allowance program. 

Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), one of the top proponents of the expanded credit in the House, said moderates especially should favor the policy and that a work requirement would hurt the middle class. 

“Before Democrats expanded the credit in the American Rescue Plan, one-in-three children were left out of receiving the full benefit because their families didn’t make enough money to receive the full credit,” DelBene said. “The Child Tax Credit is an important tax cut for middle-class families and in only two months is already having an incredible impact on American children.”

When Congress sent coronavirus rebate checks to households with no income last year, it was a breakthrough moment ― the first time the federal government had provided unconditional cash assistance to the poorest Americans. 

Democrats followed through this year by continuing the checks for parents, with $300 per month per child under 6 and $250 per child under 18. They’re now proposing to keep the benefits going through 2025 as part of a broader social spending bill. 

Manchin has long been the voice of opposition to the legislation within the Democratic Party, saying he dislikes both its overall cost and some of the tax increases that would offset the cost. But now he’s echoing Republican talking points on the child tax credit payments, probably the highest-priority element of the legislation and Democrats’ proudest achievement this year. 

For decades, a bipartisan consensus has insisted that the federal government not help anyone unless they certify their poverty through paperwork and try to better themselves by seeking employment ― rules that result in far fewer people getting help. “Work requirements” in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, for instance, have winnowed the program’s enrollment to a small fraction of the eligible population. 

The coronavirus pandemic broke the welfare consensus, but Republicans and Manchin would apparently like to put it back together.

Manchin suggested he’d like to see both work requirements for the child tax credit and a stricter income cutoff, since households earning up to $150,000 annually are eligible for full benefits. (Households earning up to $400,000 can receive smaller payments.) 

“I can tell you, people that are working and working poor, making every effort they can to get ahead in life, that’s in the $50,000 and below,” he said Sunday. “I have got people that are making combined [$200,000 and $300,000] and more, up to [$400,000], saying they’re getting checks.”

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