The federal aid package – the third passed by Congress since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic 12 months ago – includes one-time cash payments to most adults, money for daycare and expanded unemployment benefits.
However, the largest direct injection of cash for families is the increase in child tax credits: up to $ 3,600 for children 6 and under, up to $ 3,000 for children 7 and under. The credits were previously $ 2,000.
Not only are such loans stronger, but they are also paid out differently than in the past, giving a big boost to poor families who have previously missed some or all of the benefits.
Tax credits are typically claimed by about 30% of Georgians who file tax returns, said Laura Wheeler, assistant director of the Center for State and Local Finance at Georgia State University.
Such loans were used in the past to offset taxes owed. Now, a lower-income family who did not earn enough to qualify for the loan will be refunded – that is, they will receive cash – for unused loans, Wheeler said. Households receive half of these reimbursements in monthly payments from July to December and the other half in the next year.
This is a major change for families like the Shearns. The Alpharetta family has two children aged 5 and 11, but has not yet been able to take advantage of the full loan because their income was too low.
The parents, Ayesha and Les, both work, but Ayesha’s hours have been cut. Meanwhile, the normal bills are rising: the mortgage on her house, the $ 400 monthly fee to the subdivision and utilities.
Plus, there are issues they didn’t face prior to the pandemic, like sensory materials for their suddenly home-schooled son with special needs. And when everyone is at home, their grocery bills are twice as high.
“We are behind on some points and had to use our credit cards. We just want to be caught up, ”said Ayesha.
Approximately 500,000 children in Georgia – or nearly a fifth of all children in the state – live in families with incomes below the poverty line, which, according to federal guidelines, is roughly $ 26,000 for a family of four. According to the Childrens’ Defense Fund, around 217,000 children in Georgia live in “extreme poverty” in families with incomes below half the poverty line.
Like many provisions of the Facilitation Act, the changes to the tax credits only apply for this year. Critics fear that they will be made permanent. Supporters say this is a good idea.
The revamped Child Tax Credit isn’t the only new help for families struggling to make ends meet.
Additional assistance under the American Rescue Act comes in the form of one-time payments of $ 1,400 to most adults. Additional support includes changes that further expand household finances, such as subsidizing health premiums, helping with rent, or increasing the amount of money that can be spent through SNAP, often referred to as grocery stamps.
And part of the money is spent on supporting other institutions, which in turn are needed by the parents.
In the early days of the pandemic, most state daycare centers were closed. While it’s currently about 90% open, attendance is still down 25%, said Reg Griffin, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Early Childhood Care and Learning.
Griffin said the state will receive more than $ 1.5 billion from the American Rescue Act. About $ 600 million of that would be used to support families and childcare providers, while the rest would go to a fund to keep thousands of daycare centers open, he said.
That alone is critical because working parents need affordable childcare, said Mindy Binderman, executive director of the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students, an education and advocacy group.
“This is really historic,” she said. “We have to stabilize the childcare industry and also contribute to the stability of the family so that parents can work and single parents do not have to leave the workforce.”
In addition, anything that lifts families out of poverty is good for children, she said. “We know that children who suffer from stress are developmentally injured and poverty is stressful.”
Legislation also stipulates that federal unemployment benefits will be $ 300 a week through September, which is additional financial support. Around 450,000 Georgians are still receiving unemployment benefits, and many of the unemployed are parents.
Nura Moshtael is a single mother with a 12 year old son with Down syndrome. She was taking courses for a commercial pilot’s license and worked two restaurant jobs when the pandemic broke out.
She lost both jobs, but the first round of pandemic relief included a $ 600 weekly unemployment benefit that she kept in her Buckhead apartment. When that program ended, benefits were insufficient to pay all of her expenses, so she moved to Macon to live with her widowed mother.
“After August, I brought home $ 1,400 a month – who can live on it?” She said. “I’m happy that I had to end up somewhere else.”
She interviewed for Jobs and hoped to move to management – and hopefully back to Atlanta.
Among other things, the American Rescue Act will help families in Georgia:
– A one-time check for $ 1,400 for most adults
– Extension of the $ 300 weekly unemployment benefit increase for those who lost their jobs during the pandemic
– A 15% increase in benefits for SNAP, the government-administered program formerly known as grocery stamps, and an increase in vouchers for pandemic food programs
– Subsidies for daycare from the State Ministry of Early Childhood Care and Learning
– Rent and mortgage assistance
– Relaxation of requirements, additional subsidies and premium caps for those receiving healthcare through the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare
– A significant increase in the tax credit and changes in regulations allowing low-income Georgians to benefit from it. Parents receive up to $ 3,600 in credit for each child under the age of 6. Parents receive $ 3,000 in credit for older children ages 17 and under. The credits are “refundable”. This means that parents who can’t use it to offset taxes will get the credit in cash – half of the monthly payments from July, half of the next year.
Ayesha Shearn from Alpharetta and her husband Les are in debt, so they are eager to get federal aid. Here she and her husband pose with a family friend together with their children.