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• The 97% success rate was a pre-implementation estimate of how many families would benefit from the child tax credit passed as part of the American Rescue Plan of 2021.
• Post-implementation analyses suggest the success rate might have been closer to 75% or 80%.
As he hit the road on a campaign bus tour, Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., touted some legislative achievements of President Joe Biden’s administration.
"This legislation has helped 97% of the families with children who are living in poverty," Warnock said Aug. 29 in Albany, Georgia. "I'm asking you to stand with me, Albany. Your vote is your voice, and your voice is your human dignity."
It was initially unclear which legislation Warnock was referencing. His campaign later clarified it was the child tax credit that passed in March 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan, a coronavirus and economic relief measure. Warnock’s campaign provided a portion of his prepared text, which makes it clear he’s referring to the child tax credit.
The tax credit change was designed to cut child poverty in half. Beneficiaries — who included families with very low incomes and those who are not required to file a tax return — received up to half the credit in monthly payments from July 2021 to December 2021. After that, the provision lapsed.
But Warnock jumped the gun by citing the 97% success rate, which was a pre-implementation estimate. Post-implementation studies suggest that the success rate may have been around 75%, partly because of the difficulty of reaching eligible low-income families who may lack bank accounts or may not have known about the expanded credit.
Warnock’s campaign told PolitiFact that he was using data from the Congressional Research Service, Congress’ nonpartisan research arm. The agency reported that, depending on income level and race, 83% to 99% percent of families living in or near poverty were estimated to be receiving the child tax credit, with the overall average being 96%.
But there’s a catch: The report was issued in July 2021, at the very beginning of the expanded credit’s rollout, and its numbers are projections.
Child poverty experts said that although the credits had reached millions of Americans, and very likely a large majority of those households that were eligible, it was misleading to substitute a projection of 97% for the actual disbursement rate.
"In the longer term, after a year or two rollout, one might get to Warnock’s numbers," Timothy Smeeding, a public affairs and economics professor at the University of Wisconsin and former director of the Institute for Research on Poverty, told PolitiFact.
"If you had a change in family circumstances or were not a regular taxpayer, you had to apply online and hope for the best. Many poorer families did not benefit," Smeeding said.
A report by the Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy in December 2021 concluded that "the expanded child tax credit has reached the overwhelming majority of children, but outreach to newly eligible families with low incomes should still continue."
One analysis published in August 2022 found that one-quarter of adults with children reported that they had not received the payments, which would make the overall success rate 75% rather than 97%. The findings were from the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, and its Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey, a nationally representative survey of adults ages 18 to 64.
The Urban Institute also conducted a smaller focus group with 20 low- and moderate-income families closer to the start of the program’s implementation. Although all participants in the focus group knew about the credit, one-fifth of the participants said they had not received a payment.
Meanwhile, another study, by the Financial Health Network, found that 20% of respondents who had household incomes under $30,000 reported that they had not received the payment. That would mean a success rate of 80%.
Americans who had previously provided the IRS with their banking information faced the fewest obstacles in receiving payments, especially because pandemic stimulus checks had been routed through those accounts. But some Americans do not have bank accounts that the IRS can access, and that complicated the rollout.
Those families "are likely to be among the lowest income families, disproportionately Black or Latino, and may have a range of family circumstances that pose challenges for outreach and enrollment, including disabilities, insecure housing, lack of internet or phone access, a language other than English spoken at home, and more," the Columbia University center wrote.
The Urban Institute survey found that other common reasons cited by households not receiving payments were that they didn’t know about the credit; didn’t realize they qualified for it; voluntarily opted out, fearing tax consequences; and government glitches that kept the money from arriving.
Warnock said the child tax credit passed as part of the American Rescue Plan "has helped 97% of the families with children who are living in poverty."
Warnock was citing pre-implementation estimates of how many families would benefit, but he framed the 97% success rate as something that had already been accomplished.
Post-implementation analyses suggest that the success rate could be closer to 75% or 80%. That would have helped a lot of eligible families, but it’s short of the figure Warnock cited.
We rate the statement Half True.
Albany (Ga.) Herald, "Sen. Raphael Warnock brings his Bus Tour to Albany," Aug. 29, 2022
Congressional Research Service, "The Child Tax Credit: The Impact of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA; P.L. 117-2) Expansion on Income and Poverty," July 13, 2021
White House, "Fact Sheet: Biden-Harris Administration Whole-of-Government Effort to Ensure Child Tax Credit Reaches All Eligible Families," Sept. 15, 2021
Treasury Department, "Treasury and IRS Disburse Sixth Monthly Child Tax Credit to Families of 61 Million Children," Dec. 15, 2021
Urban Institute, The Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey main page, accessed Sept. 7, 2022
Urban Institute, "Lack of Awareness and Confusion over Eligibility Prevented Some Families from Getting Child Tax Credit Payments," Aug. 3, 2022
Urban Institute, "Initial Parent Perspectives on the Child Tax Credit Advance Payments," September 2021
Columbia University Center on Poverty and Social Policy, "Research Roundup of the Expanded Child Tax Credit: The First 6 Months," Dec. 22, 2021
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "State and Local Child Tax Credit Outreach Needed to Help Lift Hardest-to-Reach Children Out of Poverty," Aug. 5, 2021
Financial Health Network, "2021 Advance Child Tax Credit: Reach, Payment Methods, Costs to Recipients, and Uses," June 28, 2022
Email interview with Kathryn Menefee, legal fellow with the National Women's Law Center, Aug. 7, 2022
Email interview with Elisa Minoff, a senior policy analyst at the Center for the Study of Social Policy, Sept. 7, 2022
Email interview with Timothy Smeeding, public affairs and economics professor at the University of Wisconsin and former director of the Institute for Research on Poverty, Sept 6, 2022
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