WASHINGTON (AP) – This is one of the most ambitious federal assistance programs launched during the COVID-19 pandemic – up to $ 300 per child directly to families’ bank accounts on the 15th of each month.

But the latest checks will come out on Wednesday, with the Expanded Child Tax Credit program expiring unless Congress reinstates it for 2022. It looks very uncertain as lawmakers try to get the Social and Environmental Bill passed. about $ 2,000 billion from President Joe Biden.

The rapid launch, and potentially the rapid end, of the strengthened child tax credit highlights the risks of enacting sweeping social policy changes in a politically divided environment, without a consensus to hold the changes. Biden and the Capitol Hill Democrats may not have been praised by voters for adding the new advantage, but they will almost surely be blamed if the money abruptly stops flowing next month.

“We have to maintain them,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., And chair of the New Democrat House Coalition. “Families deserve this predictability and certainty. “

The child tax credit wasn’t new when Democrats, over Republicans’ objections in Congress, changed the program as part of Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill shortly shortly after taking office in January.

But it has rarely given the boost to families seen with this year’s changes.

For more than 20 years, American taxpayers have enjoyed tax relief for their children. Started as a $ 500 per child write-off under Bill Clinton in 1997, it has changed over time and was bolstered by Donald Trump’s GOP tax cuts in 2017. Biden’s US bailout has increased the credit at $ 3,000 per year, added 17-year-olds. and increased the amount to $ 3,600 for children under six. More dramatically, it extended the credit to millions of low-income and no-income families, even though they did not earn enough money to pay income taxes or pay enough tax to qualify for the refund.

Studies suggest that increases in the child tax credit should reduce child poverty by 40%, of which 9 in 10 American children will benefit. In total, some 4.1 million children are on track to cross the poverty line, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities analysis.

After the first checks started arriving in July, about a third of recipient families used the money in the first few months to pay off outstanding debt, as well as to pay for school supplies and childcare, according to the reports. US Census Bureau preliminary reports.

Families in New Mexico, which has one of the highest child poverty rates in the country, spent nearly 46% of their child tax credit money on food, according to a study by the Washington University at St. Louis’s Social Policy Institute.

“That says a lot about what worries families,” said Sharon Kaye, communications director for New Mexico Voices for Children. “It’s extremely important for a lot of families. “

Republicans are totally opposed to Biden’s larger political bill, which would extend the tax credit, arguing that the comprehensive package on health, education and climate change is too big and costly in a time of inflation growing.

Republican No.2 Sen. John Thune said on Tuesday his team were okay to let politics expire as the coronavirus crisis eases and temporary aid wears off.

“What I don’t think you want is a huge increase in spending,” Thune told reporters. “And that would probably be the most obvious example of an inflationary type policy.”

Facing Republican opposition, Biden is trying to push through the roughly $ 2 trillion package with Democrats alone, which the House has already done. But the path into the 50-50 50-50 Senate is more difficult, with no room for dissent.

Biden is in talks with a key element, Sen. Joe Manchin, who appears to be the last hurdle for Democrats trying to get the big bill through by Christmas.

Asked specifically about the expiration of the tax credit this week, Manchin did not respond to repeated questions about the potential loss.

One Democrat who has had “many, many, many conversations” with Manchin is Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, who said West Virginia “is not a fan of the child tax credit right now” .

Bennet said he hoped Manchin would come to see that the extension would help the country because it would allow more parents to afford childcare and work. “I hope that with the one year extension of the enhanced credit he becomes a fan and we will see,” he said.

When it became law this year, the expanded child tax credit was hailed as a potential philosophical change in the way government assistance programs operate with an emphasis on direct cash support and without conditions.

Instead, the program pays discretionary money directly into parents’ bank accounts, leaving parents to decide how best to use it. Beneficiaries spend it on food, rent, school supplies or even recreational activities. Supporters have described him as an element of trust that was lacking in much of America’s social safety net – relying on parents to make the right decisions based on their families’ needs.

Robert Greenstein, Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, compared the Child Tax Credit to America’s safety net programs – Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid – which have been tweaked and altered over the years to become mainstays of the American life. He said there are few policies that are more important.

Greenstein said the benefits not only benefit the families receiving the money, but have the potential to bring long-term economic benefits. “We will eventually have generations of healthier, better educated children who can be more productive workers in the US economy for decades to come,” he said.

“People are often skeptical – the government is not doing it right,” he said. “It’s an example of something that they really understood.”

With the last checks now scheduled for Wednesday, Democrats are rushing to make sure the January 15 checks still land in families’ bank accounts. The Treasury Department has warned lawmakers that Dec. 28 is the deadline to pass the bill and avoid disruption, although lawmakers have suggested that payments could be made retroactively if Biden’s package stalls.

Emma Mehrabi, director of anti-poverty policy at the Children’s Defense Fund, called the potential disruption of payments “a real slap in the face for families in need.”

She said: “There is no other tool in our toolbox that has dramatically reduced child poverty for decades.

___

Associated Press writer Josh Boak contributed to this report.