My career has included stints as a policy analyst, a journalist and now a communications consultant for organizations doing incredible work. One throughline has been my conviction that government can do good: that large-scale policy change can generate benefits for people on just that – a large scale. Think Social Security, Medicare, and more recently, the Affordable Care Act.
I eventually decided that while I appreciate a good regression analysis as much as the next gal, I’m a communicator at heart. My role is to employ communications and outreach strategies to win support for good public policy. But back in my days as an undergraduate Public Policy major, I remember realizing that one policy that could make a tremendous difference in the lives of families – and avoid paternalistic restrictions – would be to simply put money in folks’ pockets month after month.
So the policy wonk and the communicator in me are thrilled that we at LightBox have now taken on a new project — promoting a landmark, large-scale federal policy to get more money to families raising children.
Decades in the making, the Advance Child Tax Credit provides up to $300 a month for each child under age 6 and $250 a month for children ages 6-17. It’s not a loan – it’s no strings attached cash for food, rent, clothes, child care and more. Estimates are that this expansion will reduce the number of children in poverty by more than 40 percent. In the six weeks after the monthly payments began, the number of adults living with children reporting that their household didn’t have enough to eat fell by 3.3 million!
The problem is, some of the families who most need these funds have not gotten them yet, because they had little reason to file taxes before the pandemic. (If you didn’t file taxes in 2019 or 2020, you can use this new simplified, mobile-friendly tool in English and Spanish.)
In California alone, over 650,000 children are at risk of not receiving the credit. Which is where we at LightBox come in, thanks to a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to over a dozen family-focused organizations across the state. These organizations are kicking into high gear, conducting aggressive outreach and providing hands-on assistance to families who are least likely to file taxes. They’re deploying trusted messengers who can help get around multiple barriers, including language, disability, internet access, difficulty with online forms, and mistrust of government. We’re helping with messaging, outreach tools, design, and more.
The expanded Child Tax Credit was finally instituted through a combination of tremendous advocacy and the unique circumstances of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. I wish it had not taken all that, but here we are. And it’s a good reminder that even in our darkest days, the work that our clients like Oakland Starting Smart and Strong, Fresno Starting Smart and Strong, First 5 San Francisco, First 5 Alameda, Child Care Law Center, California Child Care Resource and Referral Network, and so many more have been doing all along can come to fruition when the time is ripe. And that our job as communicators is to get the message in front of people at the right time in the right way so they can take action.
Right now the expanded credit is set to expire at the end of 2021, but the fight is on for an extension to 2025. With enough organizing, we can make this permanent.
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A LightBox collaborator since 2011, Isobel mostly uses her degrees in Public Policy and Urban Planning to translate policy-speak into language that resonates with regular people. This time around, she can’t resist a look at the cross tabs.