Susan Kiralis and her daughter, Leela Vernon, 5, at their home in Vassalboro on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

VASSALBORO — For Mainers like Susan Kiralis, a new monthly child tax credit payment from the federal government starting in July is going to be a big help in getting her family fully back on its feet in a post-COVID-19 economy.

Kiralis, 30, a single mother with two children ages 5 and 13, saw her family’s finances take a hit when the pandemic forced school shutdowns and suspended the craft fairs and festivals where she sold handmade jewelry. She had full-time child care to attend to and the jewelry sales dried up.

Now hers is among the 230,000 Maine families who will start seeing a monthly payment of $300 for each child under 6 and $250 for each child under 17. The cash will help her replenish a savings account, restoring the financial cushion she lost and moving her a family step closer to security.

“I found myself not dipping into my savings but using it on a regular flow,” she said. “Just to get basic stuff paid for.” Kiralis, who was working on a degree in criminal justice, also left school when the virus hit. She said stabilizing her income will let her eventually return to the goal of completing her degree.

The new tax credit payments were advanced as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress earlier this year. They are not a new government benefit but a change in tax policy. The act allows a partial prepayment of a tax credit that taxpayers normally receive after they file their federal tax returns at the end of the year.

The credit amount was also expanded for lower income levels. The new payments, which allow for half of the credit to be paid in six monthly installments, are temporary, expiring at the end of 2021. President Biden has said he wants to make the advanced payments a permanent feature, although Congress has yet to agree.

Under the ARPA provisions, people with children under the age of 6 will be eligible for a $300 payment, while those with children under 17 will be eligible for a $250 payment. The payments will be sent by check or direct deposit to those who have filed 2019 and 2020 tax returns or who have received federal stimulus payments.

“This tax cut will give our nation’s hardworking families with children a little more breathing room when it comes to putting food on the table, paying the bills, and making ends meet,” Biden said at an event to highlight the program last week. “Nearly every working family with children is going to feel this tax cut make a difference in their lives, and we need to spread the word so that all eligible families get the full credit.”

As a temporary measure, Congress increased the total tax credit for each eligible child in 2021, boosting it from $2,000 per child to $3,600 per child under 6 and $3,000 per child under the age of 17. Under the law, that increased credit phases out for single filers at $75,000, head-of-household filers at $112,500 and for couples at $150,000.

Michael Mosley, Desiree Mosley and their son Leander, 5, outside their home in Waterville on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Those earning beyond those thresholds will remain eligible for the lower credit amount of $2,000 per child under the age of 17. They, too, will begin seeing direct payments to their accounts.

About 90 percent of Maine children live in households eligible for the payments. Advocates for low-income families say the payments are going to bolster the well-being and lives of thousands of children, at least temporarily boosting 10,000 Maine kids and their families above the poverty line.

“The economic security of Maine families is important not only to them, but to our whole state, and families have had a very tough 15 months,” said Robyn Merrill, executive director of Maine Equal Justice, a nonprofit that provides services and advocacy for low-income Mainers. “The American Rescue Plan Act’s improvements to the CTC will make it easier for families with kids to afford housing, food, clothing, health care and child care.”

Kiralis will receive six monthly payments of $550. The money will not only help her rebuild her savings, but it will also pay for some long-overdue car repairs. And she says she hopes to be able to use a little bit of the income to enrich her children’s lives with activities they could afford before the pandemic – like a summer camp program or family outings.

For other families the money will be even more of a lifeline.

In Waterville, Michael and Desiree Mosley, for example, say the cash may make the difference in whether the couple, who both work full time, can get their family into a better housing situation. They’ve tried for years to move to a better place – one they feel will be safer for their children, ages 5 and 13.

But the pandemic only exacerbated Maine’s shortage of affordable housing while sending home and rental prices skyrocketing. “Just getting together first and last month’s rent and a security deposit and you are looking at anywhere between $3,600 to $4,500,” said Michael Mosley, 33.

Saving that much is a daunting task, especially as they try to dig out from the back rent they owe for an apartment they feel is contributing to their children’s health problems and may be unsafe to live in. The couple, who both work jobs that do not provide health benefits, are paying out of pocket for health care, including expensive medications for their kids, but they earn just too much to be eligible for the state’s Medicaid program, MaineCare. The pandemic, with public schools going remote, also pressed the Mosleys, like many families, between working and caring for their kids.

Desiree Mosley and her son Leander, 5, outside of their home in Waterville on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Michael Mosley said the child tax credit payments – they too will get $550 a month for their two children – will “help ease some of the stress, but it’s not a total solution.”

Merrill said Maine Equal Justice and others are working to make sure eligible Maine families can claim and receive the credit. Advocates for the poor also want to make the credits permanent.

“This year’s expansion of the Child Tax Credit will help many Mainers make ends meet, but without action from Congress, the rug will be pulled out from under those families when expanded eligibility and benefits expire in 2022,” said Garrett Martin, executive director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy, which advocates for policies to help low-income Mainers as well. “Our elected officials must make these improvements permanent to help improve the lives of children, from all races and backgrounds, for generations to come.”

Nationally the payments will boost some 4.1 million children out of poverty while lifting another 1.1 million out of “deep poverty” – or above half the poverty line or those in households earning less than $13,250 for a family of four – an analysis of the law by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-D.C. based nonprofit and nonpartisan research institute, shows. That analysis also shows the advance payment of tax credits will benefit large swaths of minority children and white children living in the most rural parts of the U.S.

The Internal Revenue Service has mailed notice of the payments, which will come by direct deposit or a check in the U.S. mail starting on July 15, to U.S. tax filers. Families who have not filed taxes or are not typically required to file taxes because their earnings are too low are also eligible for the payments. Biden has promoted a federal online portal for those families to sign up for the benefit.

Only one of Maine’s four members of Congress responded to a question about whether they supported Biden’s proposal to make the payments permanent.

“Every family deserves the chance to build a better life for their children, and the historic expansion of the Child Tax Credit extends that opportunity to more Maine families than ever before,” 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, said Friday. “Eighty-four percent of kids in Maine’s 1st Congressional District could gain from the expanded program, lifting a projected 5,100 kids out of poverty in my district alone. We should absolutely make this opportunity permanent.”

Christopher Knight, a spokesman for Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, did not directly answer the question about making the tax credit payments permanent. “Senator Collins has long championed efforts to support our working families, and she will look for responsible ways to continue to do so,” Knight wrote in an email message.

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats in the Senate, said King voted for ARPA for a number of reasons, including “the massive impact the expanded Child Tax Credit will have on Maine families in (a) time of financial and emotional stress.”

“He is grateful that these funds will help families across our state make ends meet and speed our overall recovery from the coronavirus pandemic,” the spokesman, Matthew Felling, wrote in an email. “On the question of making the program permanent, Sen. King is engaging with colleagues on both sides of (the) aisle to determine the proper scope in terms of eligibility and amount, and insure that any extension is paid for.”

Democratic Rep. Jared Golden of the 2nd District did not respond to the question. Golden was the only congressional Democrat to vote in opposition to ARPA.

Casey Henderson poses for a portrait on Thursday in Winslow. Henderson has a 5-year-old son and is also a case manager. She and many of her colleagues have been letting their clients know about the child tax credit. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Casey Henderson, 33, of Winslow, an intervention case manager for Paramount Behavioral Services in Waterville, said stretching the tax credit out into smaller monthly payments is much better for those struggling to make ends meet paycheck to paycheck.

She said it’s easy to spend a large refund check from the IRS on high-priced items like televisions and gaming systems rather than on items that help children. And people who do try to save tax credits and rebates in hopes of getting ahead risk losing other government benefits if they end up with too much in their savings for too long.

“They can only save it for six months and then (the Department of Health and Human Services) is on them because they have too much money in their bank account,” Henderson said. “And then they will take their other benefits away. Anyway you go around they will not allow you to get ahead.”

Henderson’s family, including her 5-year-old son, Payton, and her partner will also benefit from the monthly child tax credit payments. But she worries that some people may never get the tax credit payments they’re eligible for because they will not know it is available to them. She’s also working to make sure her eligible clients sign up for it.

Henderson will receive the $300 monthly payment until Payton turns 6 later this summer, when the payment will drop to $250. She said the money will be saved for unexpected emergencies or to pay for items like Christmas gifts in December. But she said many families will use the money for basic necessities.

“Food, toilet paper and clothing,” she said. “The things people really can’t do without.”


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