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Senator says family support, not tax breaks for wealthy, 'should be the top priority' in pending budget.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Sen. Jeff MerkleyU.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley says the continuation of an expanded child tax credit — whether it's for two, six or 10 years — would help working families along with more aid for child care, community colleges, paid family leave and other social supports in a pending federal budget resolution.

The Oregon Democrat also says don't take his word for it, but the words of workers and others who deal with families.

Merkley sponsored a video conference call Wednesday, Sept. 29, during which three workers described how a continuation of the child tax credit, which Congress expanded for just one year as part of President Joe Biden's pandemic recovery plan, would help them. Democrats, who hold the thinnest of majorities in Congress, are still hashing out details of a longer-term budget resolution for expanded education and social supports and measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

"It should be the top priority, not tax breaks for the rich" that Republicans pushed through Congress four years ago, Merkley said.

What they said

Clinton Lee Kindle is a health care worker represented by Service Employees International Union, and whose job puts his two children at risk.

"I know that for my family, it has helped with mortgage payments and such, because I am the only full-time worker (in the family) right now. I know plenty of folks in similar circumstances," he said.

"It is a resource we are going to need through this pandemic and a bit after."

Royce Dille went back to work as a driver for the Uber ride-sharing service, six months into the pandemic, after medical bills mounted from cancer surgeries and chemotherapy and Social Security cut off his disability payments. His wife is a secretary at an elementary school who doubles as the person who runs coronavirus screening.

"I feel the more permanence, the better," he said. "This has so many moving parts that if we can take one thing out of the equation and provide financial security for some folks, it would be a lot easier to get through everything as a whole.

"Needless to say, anything that alleviates stress in our lives is more than welcome."

In her role as political director for Family Forward Oregon, Courtney Helstein has worked with mothers who have faced added stress because of school closures (until recently) and a lack of child care while they try to continue to work. She herself is a caregiver for her father, who is self-employed but temporarily unable to work, while her mother is the remaining wage earner.

"Having a permanent child tax credit would be incredible, but I also know from every conversation I've had with mothers and parents around the state that whether it's for two years or six years, the need is real," she said. "But we will absolutely take it, for however long we can get it."

For how long?

In the one-year expansion under the American Rescue Plan Act, children under age 6 qualify a household for a $3,600 credit, and for those between ages 6 and 17, a $3,000 credit if their household incomes are under specified limits. Credits are subtracted directly from taxes owed, and the amounts are refundable even if a family does not pay income taxes.

For this year only, the Internal Revenue Service paid families half of those amounts in monthly installments ($250 or $300 per child) through checks or electronic transfers, through December. Families will get the rest when they file 2021 tax returns in 2022, even if they owe no tax.

Biden said the move would lift as many as 40% of children above the federal poverty line this year.

Biden's Build Back Better plan, now in a budget resolution pending in Congress, would continue that expansion. But Merkley said the length of the expansion will hinge on how much it can draw from that resolution. The cost of the tax credit is estimated at $60 billion per year.

The original resolution put forth by the Senate Budget Committee was at $6 trillion over 10 years, and Biden accepted a reduction to $3.5 trillion for a host of social support programs. Merkley said at that total, the expanded credit is likely to be no less than two years and no more than six years, though he would prefer 10 years.

"When we look at the whole Build Back Better plan as a package, you really see a holistic approach," Helstein said. "It's not just getting our country and our state through this economic and health crisis, but setting us up for a different experience and set of supports for families moving forward."

Who gets a break?

But the budget resolution requires support from every Democrat in the evenly split Senate — Republicans oppose it — and virtually every Democrat in the narrowly divided House. Merkley spoke the day before West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, one of two Democrats on the fence, said he would support a total of only $1.5 trillion over 10 years — less than half of Biden's target.

Merkley, however, said the tax cuts that Republican majorities pushed through Congress and President Donald Trump signed in 2017 without a single Democratic vote also cost $1.5 trillion over 10 years — and the benefits were tilted toward large corporations and high-income households.

"We do all kinds of breaks for affluent families making them more affluent. Why are we providing tax shelters for exceedingly rich Americans way beyond what they would ever need for retirement?" he asked.

"I listen to Republicans who say families need to lift themselves up by their bootstraps and have to have the incentive to do hard work. They say it's just fine to have massive tax breaks for really rich Americans to be richer and live in large fancy houses with interest deductions. But they don't want to provide a foundation for a family that is working in an economy where so many jobs are at basic wages, and helping their children thrive. That's just wrong."

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