Reverse Robin Hood: Conservatives Take Child Tax Credit from Families on the Brink, Give to the Rich

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Talk Poverty

Reverse Robin Hood: Conservatives Take Child Tax Credit from Families on the Brink, Give to the Rich

Photo: flickr/cc/Tim Brown

This week, the House is set to vote on a bill that would systematically gut the Child Tax Credit (CTC) as we currently know it. We’ve seen conservatives offer this bill many times before.  In a reverse Robin Hood maneuver, they would take away CTC benefits from low-income families in order to expand them for wealthy families in the future—families with incomes as high as $205,000.

In 1998, Congress passed the CTC with the aim of bringing children in low-income families out of poverty. Depending on a family’s income, the CTC provides a tax credit of up to $1,000 per child; the credit increases as a family’s income rises, with higher-income families receiving a larger credit.  The CTC has successfully achieved its goal: in 2012, the program lifted more than 3 million Americans out of poverty.

Currently, immigrant parents of US citizen children are able to receive a Child Tax Credit by filing with an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). The IRS created the ITIN in 1996 so that immigrants who are not eligible for Social Security numbers would be able to file taxes. In practice, many ITIN filers are undocumented immigrants who are living and working in the United States.

These workers contribute much needed revenue.  In 2010, undocumented workers contributed $13 billion in payroll taxes.  In recent years, more than 3 million immigrants have filed taxes using an ITIN, contributing nearly $1 billion in income taxes. This system has clearly allowed immigrants without Social Security numbers to come forward and strengthen the coffers of the US while receiving needed assistance for their children.

So how would things change if conservatives had things go their way with this bill?  The short answer: 4 million US citizen children would be at risk of falling into poverty.

By requiring that all taxpayers use a Social Security number when claiming the Child Tax Credit, this bill would strip immigrant parents of US citizen children of their right to receive the credit. Currently, over 2 million people use an ITIN to file for the CTC, therefore 4 million US born children would be deprived of this crucial financial assistance.

This would be a devastating blow to these families.  In recent years, the average family income of ITIN filers claiming the CTC was just over $21,200, and their average refund through the CTC was $1,800.  As the annual cost of raising a child in the US steadily increases, and real wages grow sluggishly, low-income families need the CTC more than ever.  Eliminating the ability for immigrants to claim it on behalf of their children would simply push millions of Americans into poverty and create greater costs to our country now and in the future.

Adding insult to injury, the conservative bill comes after a year of inaction in the House on immigration reform.  By failing to pass immigration reform, House conservatives denied immigrants the ability to get right with the law and obtain a Social Security card. Now they are attempting to punish US citizen children whose parents don’t have a Social Security card.

Eliminating the CTC for those who file and pay taxes under the ITIN would take food off the table and clothes off the backs of US citizen children. Unfortunately, and to the shock of no one, yet another bill is targeting some of the most vulnerable Americans in an attempt to help the already fortunate few.

Marshall Fitz

Marshall Fitz is the Director of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress.

Patrick Oakford

Patrick Oakford is a Policy Analyst on the Immigration and Economic Policy Teams at the Center for American Progress.

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