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The Rise of Omicron is Grounds for Extending the Monthly Child Tax Credit

The end of CTC payments will also mean the end of employment for some parents, right when times are most difficult due to an Omicron wave.

Omicron is Likely the Fastest-Spreading Virus Known to Humankind

Omicron is spreading like wildfire across the country, with a doubling rate of about two days, but there’s also a giant question mark attached to this new variant that is now already even more dominant than the Delta variant. 

Omicron does appear to be a milder strain, but could hospitals still become overwhelmed based on sheer numbers of people being infected effectively all at once? 

What will local responses look like across the country? 

For parents, how will Omicron impact their kids and their schooling? 

We simply have more questions than answers right now. 

That state of unknowing is itself a big problem that requires big solutions. The enhanced child tax credit is a big part of that big solution because of its infinite flexibility as cash, and the monthly security it has been providing. In short, the CTC is just too important to stop during a pandemic, especially during another wave right when it’s needed most.

With what could be its final payment having already been sent to parents on December 15, the CTC has been providing dependable cash on a monthly basis for six months now. The bulk of this cash has been spent on basic needs like food and housing, but it’s not just about what it buys. 

It’s about what it enables by way of what it buys. For many, what it has enabled is employment by affording childcare. For others, it has enabled saving money currently being spent on child care by empowering parents to stay home for their kids. It’s this flexibility that makes it more important than ever right now, on the precipice of its expiration, as Omicron creates a state of unknowing that requires maximum flexibility.

With Omicron being as contagious as it is, many people are going to test positive and need to quarantine, especially where mandates require it. For parents, that can mean a loss of income as they are forced to miss days at their job if they can’t work from home. 

Entire businesses may even need to temporarily close, which would negatively impact those not testing positive too. The CTC payments help afford that loss of income from adults needing to quarantine.

Not all schools are going to stop providing in-person learning and switch to at-home learning as a result of an Omicron wave, but some will. Some already are. The parents of those kids need to be able to be there at home for their kids, which for some will necessitate a loss of income. The CTC payments help afford that loss of income due to children needing to quarantine.

As young kids are forced to go back to remote learning at home, that can require parents to need to buy things they wouldn’t have otherwise needed to buy, like a new tablet or a replacement laptop when one breaks, or lunches that would otherwise have been free at school. One of the biggest uses of the monthly CTC has already been school supplies. The CTC payments help afford these additional costs.

Schools Are Again Going Virtual

The US is also already seeing a 30% increase in child Covid hospitalizations from one week ago. If the number of kids hospitalized due to Covid continues to increase due to low vaccination rates among kids, especially those under age 5 who aren’t yet able to be vaccinated, parents without health insurance will be hit with unexpected medical bills too. The CTC payments help soften the blow of uninsured/underinsured medical bills.

As family incomes take a hit from the rippling effects of an Omicron surge, some teens will feel it necessary to drop out of school to find employment to help their families. This has already been happening. Nikki Wall is a mom in Arizona who has experienced this herself and wrote about it in a recent op-ed:

“My 16-year-old daughter couldn’t cope with the change to remote learning and fell too far behind. She dropped out and started working as a line cook making minimum wage. Although I didn’t ask her to, she’s helping me cover the rent while making some money of her own. But I’m hoping she goes back to school and gets her diploma: Kids shouldn’t be helping their parents pay the bills.”

Nikki Wall, Mother from Arizona

The CTC payments help keep kids in school by better enabling parents to afford the needs of their families without their kids needing to contribute themselves to family income

The CTC is an Employment-Enabling Investment

Kids also aren’t the only students. 26% of all undergrads in the US are parents. So what happens when the schools that functioned as child care to enable these parents to go to college switch to remote learning? For some parents, it will mean needing to drop out to focus on their kids unless they can afford help. The CTC payments help parents afford to stay in college.

Child care options also tend to be daycare, not night care. Parents with evening-hour jobs instead of day jobs find it that much more difficult to afford the care for their kids that makes their employment possible. The CTC payments help parents afford to stay employed in the evenings.

As businesses close due to the sheer volume of people testing positive for Omicron, not only will that reduce incomes, but it can also produce more upward pressure on inflation as the supply of goods and services is further reduced. The CTC payments help shield families from the higher costs of higher inflation.

No one knows what prices will be impacted the most if Omicron further disrupts the supply chain. One month it could be a spike in the price of lumber, the next it can be a spike in meat prices. Targeted programs like SNAP can help, but they exclude parents “too rich” to receive them, and because cash can be spent on anything, where vouchers may not help at all, cash can save the day. The CTC payments help parents adapt in a flexible way month by month.

Parents have also made long-term decisions based on believing the monthly child tax credit payments wouldn’t end. When those purchases are what enable their employment, like for example after getting a loan for a vehicle, the end of the CTC payments will also mean the end of employment for some of these parents, right when times are most difficult due to an Omicron wave. The CTC payments help parents to continue to afford their employment-enabling investments.

The Child Tax Credit Helps Expand Families

The decision to have another child is also another long-term decision some parents have already made thanks to the monthly CTC making a new child more affordable. At a time when more adults than ever in America’s history are not having kids, making kids more affordable is literally an investment in the future of an America that has already lost over 800,000 Americans.

The CTC is expected to return $8 for every $1 invested in American families. That’s an incredible return on investment thanks to reducing the $1 trillion a year cost of child poverty that the $110 billion CTC enhancement has dramatically dropped, and thanks to parents spending their monthly checks as customers of their local small businesses.

Goldman Sachs has already downgraded what it expected GDP to look like in 2022 based on the potential for the CTC to not be renewed as is. The enhanced CTC is a keystone element to have in place throughout all of 2022. By putting money into the hands of parents with the trust that they will spend it better than anyone else ever could, it will grow the economy and will help insulate American families from the potential economic impacts of yet another Covid wave.

Parents Need the Freedom and Flexibility that the CTC Provides

By trusting parents to do what’s best for their families with the ultimate flexibility of cash, the monthly CTC will continue helping some parents remain employed where they otherwise would have to quit while helping other parents afford to stay home, reduce their household expenses, and focus on their kids.

It will continue helping kids do their best while learning in schools and at home. It will continue helping student-parents remain invested in their futures. It will continue helping families afford the higher costs of inflation until the pandemic is finally over and global supply chains are no longer pandemic-constrained. It will continue helping families afford emergency expenses in an ongoing time of emergencies large and small.

The monthly CTC will continue doing all of these incredibly important things for American families, but only if we as a country make sure it does continue.

Now is not the time to let the monthly CTC expire. Bills are every month. Emergencies can happen at any time. The costs of employment never stop. The prices of basic needs like food and fuel are still inflated.

Now is the time to extend the monthly CTC.


Scott Santens is a leading advocate for Unconditional Basic Income, author of Let There Be Money, editor of Basic Income Today, and Senior Advisor to Humanity Forward. To read more of his writing, visit scottsantens.com.

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