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Child Tax Credit Expansion Could Reduce Childhood Poverty, But Some Worry Families Aren’t Signed Up

Keith Srakocic

On today’s program: Some analysts say the child tax credit expansion could greatly reduce childhood poverty, but advocates are scrambling to help low-income families who don’t file tax returns to opt in; Nicole Molinaro with the Pittsburgh Women’s Center and Shelter says the center saw an increase in survivors reaching out for services; and Pittsburgh-based photographer Mikael Owunna celebrates his first public art, portraits featured on local digital billboards.

Child tax credit is getting a temporary expansion under the American Rescue Plan
(0:00 - 6:35)

Payments for the expanded child tax credit are scheduled to start going out today, and those receiving these payments will get more money because of the American Rescue Plan.

“It increased the number of people who are eligible for it… and it also made some of these payments monthly, rather than coming all in one lump sum at tax time,” explains WESA reporter Kate Giammarise.

Eligible parents could get monthly payment for each child: $300 for children under the age of 6 or $250 for children aged 6 to 17 years old. Parents must have filed a tax return in 2019 or 2020 to get these payments, as long as they fall under a certain income threshold ($150,000 for couples, and $112,500 for single parents).

Giammarise says there’s no deadline to opt in, so families who may have not filed taxes due to low incomes can still receive the payments by registering online. However, the expanded amount and monthly payments are only being distributed for the remainder of the year. Any extension would require action from Congress.

“A lot of analysis says this would cut child poverty in half in this country if this payment reaches everyone who’s eligible for it,” says Giammarise. “If this is made permanent, this is very significant in how America treats families and treats low-income families in particular.”

One concern, however, is that low-income families who could benefit the most might not be aware of or have opted in to this benefit. Giammarise says many nonprofits are doing outreach to alert families. Allegheny County Department of Human Services is also sending text messages to families they work with to notify them of the program.

Need for domestic violence services during the pandemic
(6:37 - 17:15)

Early in the pandemic, there were concerns that stay-at-home orders would make it difficult for people experiencing domestic violence to seek help.

Now that those measures have lifted, how have shelters and supportive services changed?

“We, of course, really saw a huge need for emotional support and for safety planning,” says Nicole Molinaro, president and CEO of the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.

Molinaro says in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, the center served 8,026 adult and child survivors. In the 2019-2020 fiscal year, it was on pace to reach 8,000 adult and child clients, but ended the year having served 7,288.

“[That] really indicated that people indeed were having a really hard time reaching out for help, and of course social systems were removed, especially at the beginning of the pandemic,” says Molinaro. “During the full year pandemic of 2020-2021, we’ve served 8,126 adult and child survivors of domestic violence.”

Molinaro says the center is planning to continue virtual services for support groups and individual counseling, even as more people become vaccinated against COVID-19 and in-person services resume. She says she also appreciates that Allegheny County has made efforts to process Protection From Abuse petitions virtually, which can be safer for some people.

Photographer Mikael Owunna’s first public art display is on digital billboards around the region
(17:18 - 22:30)

Pittsburgh-based photographer Mikael Owunna is earning international acclaim for his fantastical portraits of Black people.

90.5 WESA’s Bill O’Driscoll recently accompanied Owunna to see digital billboards featuring his images.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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