Philanthropy transcended political polarization to help pass an expanded child tax credit. He can do it again.

During his State of the Union address last week, President Joe Biden urged Congress to pass an extension of last year’s expanded child tax credit. Most people watching probably considered it a futile gesture. America’s political polarization, it is thought, has made the passage of such major social legislation nearly impossible.

After all, the expanded Child Tax Credit, which provided a monthly allowance of $250 to $300 per child for most families, was allowed to expire during the deadlock over Build Back Better legislation – despite praise uniforms for reduce child poverty by nearly 40 percent.

But the end of the expansion – or, hopefully, its temporary pause – does not negate the success it represented for the development of policies that encompass a range of ideologies, nor the need for a long-term philanthropic support for such efforts. On the contrary, the willingness of funders to support a wide range of voices and arguments across the political spectrum has been essential for the tax credit to gain broad support. If bipartisan credit expansion becomes the most viable path in the months ahead, this kind of ecumenical, forward-thinking philanthropy will be a major reason.

I should know. I have conducted research and advocacy on the Child Tax Credit for the past six years from an unconventional and conservative perspective. During this process, I have seen firsthand how smart philanthropic investments aimed at reaching new audiences have opened up policy possibilities, including improved policies that many of my colleagues once thought were boldly out of reach. scope.

Whatever the end result, the credit’s success to date provides important lessons about how philanthropy can transcend partisan polarization and lead progressive and conservative policymakers toward common ground.

Build an evidence base. Widely hailed as a revolution in American social policy, how did monthly child allowances finally find their way into the American mainstream? And why now? An important factor has been philanthropic support for research demonstrating the effectiveness of the tax credit.

The child tax credit has always had a bipartisan pedigree, but until recently it has taken precedence among anti-poverty advocates and nonprofit groups in favor of more targeted programs such as the earned income tax credit. In the shadow of welfare overhaul debates in the 1990s, conventional wisdom in Washington, D.C. held that the child tax credit and the working income tax credit should be closely related to work conditions. This has led many proponents to preemptively rule out the possibility of converting the child tax credit into a European-style child allowance.

Evidence gathered during the expansion of the Canada Child Benefit in 2016 has helped change that thinking. He showed that these benefits do not significantly reduce work incentives and may even promote work by helping parents pay for child care. Philanthropies such as the Joyce, Russell Sage, William T. Grant, WK Kellogg and Doris Duke Charitable foundations have played crucial roles in funding research that has built on this evidence, culminating in a landmark 2019 report by the National Academy of Sciences titled A roadmap to reduce child poverty. Citing the experience of Canada and other countries, the report found that a child allowance was one of the most effective policies available to halve the rate of child poverty in the United States.

Use a range of values. The success of the child tax credit demonstrates why it is important for philanthropists to step out of their ideological bubbles. Child benefits are a classic example of what is known as “cross-partisanship” – an approach to political debate that recognizes the validity of different policy perspectives and seeks to synthesize them into an inclusive and pragmatic solution. Not to be confused with divided-in-difference bipartisanship associated with painful legislative compromises, cross-partisanship occurs when left and right converge on a common issue or idea despite being motivated by distinct values ​​and interests.

For example, while left-leaning advocates and nonprofits have highlighted the child tax credit’s impact on poverty and racial equity, conservative supporters are generally drawn to its pro-family potential. When Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah, published a proposal for family allowances on its own initiative in 2021, it underline that child support maximizes parental choice, reduces marriage penalties in the tax code, and may even reduce abortion rates.

I have outlined these arguments in a report I co-authored for the Niskanen Center and titled The conservative case for child allowance. Romney’s proposal and our subsequent research helped spark a national debate about work requirements and the adequacy of the US family economic security system. It is important to note that this work was only possible through the support of funders such as the Annie E. Casey, Robert Wood Johnson, and Rockefeller Foundations, who, despite their leftist leanings, understood the importance of promote distinct but converging perspectives.

The apprehensions that Senator Joe Manchin, the Democrat of West Virginia, expressed about work incentives have stalled progress on an extension of the child tax credit, but that only reinforces the need to diversify the ideological and strategic focus of anti-poverty advocates. Simply reiterating talking points aimed at a progressive audience will not do the trick and, if so, may even have a chilling effect on moderate legislators who taste perceptions of their implacability.

Coordinate outreach and encourage flexibility. As any seasoned lawyer will attest, the old adage that war is long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror can describe the policy-making process just as well. Alas, Congress has no obligation to match its legislative agenda with the grant schedules of major US foundations.

Acting on narrow windows of opportunity requires flexibility and donor coordination. Luckily, the donor community working on the child tax credit gets it. At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, I saw our funding partners spring into action, helping research and advocacy organizations like the Niskanen Center coordinate their existing work around important relief efforts.

The pandemic has seen lawmakers become increasingly comfortable with the concept of direct payments adults and children in particular. School and daycare closures only added to the case for a child benefit that offered families the most flexibility. Agencies working on refundable tax credits had a timely policy to focus their efforts on. When two Democrats won Georgia’s special Senate election in January 2021, they were poised to quickly push an expanded child tax credit to the top of the incoming Biden administration’s legislative agenda.

With congressional approval of the child tax credit expansion, the important role of philanthropy was just beginning. Millions of families across the country were now eligible for the tax credit, but they lacked the knowledge or weren’t used to filing the tax return needed to claim it. Many were only reachable due to a huge grassroots awareness initiative which has garnered support from dozens of foundations and hundreds of nonprofit organizations in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Such targeted outreach remains essential as we approach the next tax filing season.

Of course, none of this was predictable in 2019. Predicting the future of the child tax credit isn’t any easier. But whatever happens next, 2021 will go down in history as the year America chose to reduce child poverty and demonstrate the power of cash to help families thrive.

Foundations should be proud of the role they have played; they should also reflect on anything learned in the process. Like any major change, securing a $100 billion winning for children did not happen overnight. It took years of work to build the solid evidence base on child benefits and to bring together the ideologically diverse coalitions needed to change conventional wisdom in Washington. And when the opportunity for change presented itself, you had to be ready to quickly translate evidence into action, while coordinating with hundreds of separate organizations and stakeholders, including think tanks, advocacy groups and direct service providers.

Likewise, while expanding the Child Tax Credit will help build a fairer world for American children, it will not happen automatically. If there is one big lesson to be learned from the ups and downs of the past year in social policy, it is that achieving lasting social change requires persistence above all else. In this sense, our work has only just begun.