(WHTM) – During his State of the Union speech President Joe Biden called on Congress to restore the full child tax credit that expired at the end of last year.

One of several federal aid programs created during the COVID-19 pandemic, families received up to $300 a month per child every 15th day of the month. Those last checks went out in December 2022 and ended when the legislation expired.

“Let’s give tens of millions of parents some breathing room,” said the President during the annual address to a joint session of Congress.

The President also called for paid family medical leave and affordable child care during his speech, saying do so will increase economic growth.

For more than 20 years, American taxpayers have been afforded a tax break for their children. Started as a $500 per child write-off under Bill Clinton in 1997, it changed over time and was beefed up under Donald Trump’s GOP tax cuts in 2017. Biden’s American Rescue Plan increased the credit to $3,000 a year, added 17-year-olds and boosted the amount to $3,600 for children under six years old. Most dramatically, it gave the credit to millions of families with low or no income, even if they didn’t earn enough money to pay income taxes or pay enough tax to qualify for the refund.

Studies suggest the child tax credit expansions are expected to cut child poverty by 40% — with 9 of 10 American children benefiting. All told, some 4.1 million children are on track to be lifted above the poverty line, according to analysis from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

After the first checks started arriving, about one-third of recipient families used the money during the first few months to pay down outstanding debt, along with paying for school supplies and child care, according to preliminary reports from the U.S. Census Bureau.

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

When it became law, the expansion of the child tax credit was hailed as a potential philosophical shift in the way that government assistance programs work by emphasizing a direct, no-strings cash support.

Instead, the program delivers discretionary cash directly into parents’ bank accounts, leaving the parents to decide how best to use it. Recipients spend it on food, rent, school supplies or even recreational activities. Proponents described it as an element of trust that had been lacking in much of the American social safety net — relying on parents to make the right decisions on their family’s needs.

Robert Greenstein, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, compared the child tax credit to America’s signature safety net programs — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — which have been adjusted and changed over the years to become mainstays in American life. He said there are few policies that are more important.

Greenstein said the benefit flows not just to the families receiving the cash, but has the potential to bring long-term economic benefits. “We’ll end up having healthier, better-educated generations of children who can be more productive workers in the U.S. economy of future decades,” he said.

“People are often skeptical — the government doesn’t do things right,” he said. ”This is an example of something that they really got right.”


Associated Press writer Josh Boak contributed to this report.