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How The Child Tax Credit Is Helping Families In Mississippi

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

New census data out today offers some insight into how the expanded child tax credit is helping families in this country. The number of parents and guardians who report not having enough to eat on a weekly basis has dropped by more than 3 million since the benefit started rolling out in July. It gives eligible parents up to $300 a month per child.

Aisha Nyandoro has heard from some of those families firsthand. She is founding CEO of Springboard to Opportunities, a group that works with residents receiving public assistance in Jackson, Miss.

Aisha Nyandoro, welcome.

AISHA NYANDORO: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.

KELLY: Tell me how you have seen this play out for the parents you work with, the impact of this child tax credit. I'm told one mother recently brought you to tears telling you her story.

NYANDORO: Yeah. You know, so we've seen this play out in so many different ways. Nearly all of the families that we work with have recognized and indicated that this has been a lifeline. And that mom that you were talking about - it was right when the first checks were received back in July, and I was talking to one of our moms and asking her what was she going to do with her first check? And she said, I am going to go help my boys pick out their backpack.

And it's something so simple, but when she said it, it immediately brought me to tears because I have kids and I understand - and so just having the ability to take care of some of the small things as well as some of the larger things in life.

KELLY: Now I should mention this tax credit is temporary. The expanded benefits are only for the next year, unless they're extended. I spoke over the summer with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. He is a big backer of the credit. He wants it to become permanent. Here's part of what he told me.

CORY BOOKER: We have a moral obscenity of child poverty in this country. Out of the 36 wealthiest nations, we rank fourth from last on high poverty rates. This will cut child poverty virtually in half.

KELLY: I want to put to you the same question I put to Senator Booker, which is - this tax credit was put in place at a specific moment, with the pandemic raging. With the economy now coming back, why do you think it makes sense for the credit to be made permanent?

NYANDORO: But see, that's the thing. The economy is not coming back for all of us. For individuals who are still essential workers, for individuals who are still brown and Black, for individuals who have kids and who were already at a precarious financial situation prior to the pandemic, the economy isn't coming back.

This pandemic has given us an opportunity to lean into radical imagination and be bold. And we have an opportunity to end child poverty. Why not move forward with that? Why are we so in a rush to get back to the status quo?

KELLY: I want to put to you one more of the points that critics of extending this relief money make, which is - and this is not just for the child tax credit, this is also enhanced unemployment benefits. The point that critics will make is, does this extra money keep people from going back to work? Now, economists debate whether that is true or not, but is it possible some parents who are receiving hundreds, maybe a thousand or more dollars a month, may put off finding a job?

NYANDORO: The reality is individuals want to work, but they need jobs that actually pay them a living wage. In Mississippi, our federal minimum wage is still $7.25 an hour. That's not a living wage. If I do not have access to child care, if I do not have access to a job that would allow me to have a stable schedule, how am I supposed to work? So instead of saying, oh, individuals won't go back to work if we give them x, y, z, why don't we say, you know, what is it that we actually need to give individuals to ensure that they have dignity and agency?

KELLY: We've been speaking with Aisha Nyandoro, CEO of Springboard to Opportunities in Jackson, Miss.

Thanks for speaking with us.

NYANDORO: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF KENDRICK LAMAR SONG, "SING ABOUT ME, I'M DYING OF THIRST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.