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Olivia Oborne’s freshman year came and went without the sleepovers, dances, and school trips that would normally be a big part of a 12-year-old’s social life.
So when Olivia’s mother Brooke Oborne received an additional $ 250 for each of her children in July as an advance on her annual child tax credit, she used it to gift them an experience they had never had before. She sent Olivia to a summer vacation camp and her two siblings, Evelyn, 10, and Charles, 6, to a swim camp.
After more than a year of isolation and distance learning, many families across the country are doing the same: taking advantage of the windfall provided by the recent expansion of the child tax credit to pay for the experiences. social events of their missed children during the pandemic.
As part of the $ 1.9 trillion US bailout adopted in March, the extension of the child tax credit increased the existing child tax credit from $ 2,000 to $ 3,600 for children children under 6 and $ 2,000 to $ 3,000 for older children. It also broadened the scope of the child tax credit to include families that previously did not qualify.
Instead of paying the full amount at tax time, the IRS instead sends out advances to families in the form of monthly payments of $ 250 or $ 300 per child. Payments began in July and will continue until December, with the remainder to be distributed as a lump sum later.
Much of that money has gone to immediate necessities like groceries, rent, school supplies, and debt payments, and researchers have noted a dramatic drop in child poverty and food insecurity rates since the first payments were distributed in July to families of nearly 60 million children. at national scale.
As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the mental health of children and adults, some families have prioritized out-of-school learning opportunities alongside the essentials, with an estimated 1.2 million families using at least some of their resources. their July check to pay. after-school programs, according to the US Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
When Democratic lawmakers, who passed the expanded child tax credit without help from their fellow Republicans, called on their constituents to explain how their families were using the payments, parents and caregivers were quick to step in. via social media. Camp STEM, one said. Sports fees, said another. Swimming lessons, music lessons, music camp.
For many families, such opportunities would otherwise be unattainable. While the number of children participating in extracurricular activities has increased over the past fifteen years, this growth is fueled in large part by the middle class and affluent families. Children from low-income families, meanwhile, have been disproportionately excluded due to a lack of access to affordable programs.
Oborne, a daycare teacher from Medford, New Jersey, normally stays home to care for her three children during the summer months due to the prohibitive cost of childcare. For a family whose summers would typically be filled with free activities like library programs, the $ 1,000 it cost to send the three kids to summer camp would have been out of reach without the extra money, a she declared.
Dave Lester, an insurance consultant from Bremerton, Wash., Said he and his wife likely would have dipped into their savings if their child tax credit advance payments hadn’t helped cover camp costs for their two. children. Now the couple are thinking about how the extra money can help broaden their children’s horizons.
“We are talking about getting our kids involved in sports and other extracurricular activities and the CTC is helping to make that sustainable within our budget,” Lester wrote in an email.
Extracurricular activities are increasingly seen not only as recreation but as essential to a child’s learning throughout the year, and increased access to such programs, as direct implications for well-being. be social and emotional children, said Tom Rosenberg, CEO of the American Association of Camps. The role of these programs becomes even more vital when children have not had the opportunity to develop their social and emotional skills alongside their peers.
“We know from what we’re seeing firsthand right now that when kids don’t have time in person, playing informally with each other or formally in structured learning programs like a camp , they lose this practice of these socio-emotional learning skills, ”Rosenberg said. “They don’t communicate with each other either; they don’t feel comfortable with each other; small differences make them irritable and anxious, in addition to the other impacts of being isolated for so long.
Many families who had never considered camp as an option for their children have enrolled them this year, he said.
For Olivia, certainly, this turned out to be a transformative and essential getaway.
“She’s grown up a lot,” Brooke Oborne said. “She went through a lot of wonderful things, so she came back more confident and sure of herself.”