Guest Essays, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Guest essay: CTC can help end child hunger

by Josephine Reece

According to Hunger Free WV, one in nine West Virginians go hungry every day, and one in seven children in our state are dealing with food insecurity.

As a pediatrician working in West Virginia and globally in sub-Saharan Africa, I see how hunger impacts children and families. In children, we know that hunger can lead to stunted growth, developmental delays, hyperactivity, anxiety and aggression, but it also puts them at risk for chronic diseases such as anemia and asthma. And these risks are not just related to longstanding hunger — we see these conditions develop even in kids who experience multiple brief episodes of food insecurity.

Hunger is heartbreaking for a number of reasons — not the least of which is that we have the means to do better. One proven solution to alleviate hunger, especially among children, is through an expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC). A previous expansion of the CTC in 2021 was extremely effective in addressing hunger.

An overwhelming majority of families with low incomes reported using the expanded benefit during that time to meet basic needs, such as paying the rent and purchasing groceries. According to the Food Research and Action Center, the 2021 CTC expansion resulted in a 26% drop in food insufficiency nationwide. But when this expansion lapsed at the end of that year, these gains evaporated.

Thankfully, a renewed CTC expansion is included in the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act that passed in the House of Representatives with an overwhelming bipartisan majority in late January. The current proposed CTC expansions are not as extensive as those in 2021, but if enacted into law now, it is estimated that families making less than $60,000 could see their CTC increase an average of $900 per year. This is a significant increase that will make it easier for millions of parents across the country and right here in West Virginia to care for their families and make sure their kids won’t go hungry.

Contrary to false claims, the CTC expansion in the tax bill does not increase unemployment, does not add to the deficit and does not give new benefits to undocumented immigrants.

What this bill does is grant a pathway for more families with low incomes, including those with multiple children, to access the full amount of the credit. It is estimated that the families of 16 million children nationwide would see some increase in their benefit, and the families of 500,000 more children would have the tools to lift themselves above the poverty line.

As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, U.S. Rep. Carol Miller (R-W.Va.) was a key supporter in advancing Child Tax Credit expansions in the tax bill. Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.) joined her in voting in favor of this legislation just weeks ago. But now, this measure is waiting for the Senate to take action before families facing hunger will be able to take advantage of the CTC expansion when they file their taxes this spring.

This bill is a good step in improving the lives of children and families experiencing hunger. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin should support the passage of the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act now to relieve food insecurity for children and families in West Virginia.

Josephine Reece, MD, is a founding member of the West Virginia chapter of RESULTS, a grassroots, non-partisan antipoverty movement that focuses on domestic and global polices to end poverty, which is the greatest social determinant of health. A native West Virginian and WVU alum, she splits her time as a pediatrician and internist practicing here at home in West Virginia and globally in resource-limited countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa.