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Some teachers disheartened over loss of child tax credit

Initiative tied up in larger spending package that stalled in Congress

President Joe Biden arrives to speak at an event to mark the start of monthly child tax credit relief payments, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex, on July 15, in Washington. Families across the country, including on Maui, have expressed disappointment over the end of the expanded child tax credit after Congress was unable to pass Biden’s Build Back Better agenda in December that would have renewed the benefit. AP file photo

Some Maui teachers are expressing disappointment over the loss of the federal expanded child tax credit and the watering down of other benefits, saying it would help them as well as the families of the children they teach.

Makawao Elementary School teacher Sarah Shewmaker said she is “really disappointed” that the expanded child tax credit is now absent, the proposal for free community college is gone and the enhancement for family leave is less than originally proposed by President Joe Biden.

“These are fundamental initiatives that are necessary to improving the lives of Maui families, before and especially during COVID,” said Shewmaker.

She said the expanded credit check she received along with other families helped pay for groceries and clothing and helped her as well, as her “salary isn’t impressively high.”

“I wanted to see the (expanded) child tax credit made permanent for the families in my school community. There are a lot of people struggling with both parents working around the clock; an extra $300 a month can add a bit of relief and comfort if an unforeseen expense arises,” she said.

Historically a bipartisan-supported measure, the federal child tax credit was created in 1997 to allow eligible families to subtract the credit amount from the federal income taxes they owed, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The tax credit has increased over the years, and prior to 2021 enabled eligible families to reduce their federal income tax liability by up to $2,000 per qualifying child, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Last year, the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 expanded the child tax credit for American families by raising the eligibility age from 16 to 17 years old, making the credit fully refundable and increasing the maximum credit amount from $2,000 per child to $3,600 per child for those up to 5 years old and $3,000 per child for those ages 6 to 17.

Advance monthly payments were distributed from July through December with a maximum of $250 to $300 per child, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.

However, the reforms expired at the end of 2021 after Congress was unable to pass Biden’s Build Back Better agenda that included a renewal of the expanded child tax credit.

The issue was still in limbo this week as Biden marked his first year in office with a news conference in which he expressed uncertainty over the child tax credit.

“There’s two really big components that I feel strongly about that I’m not sure I can get in the package,” Biden said Wednesday. “One is the child care tax credit, and the other is help for cost of community colleges.”

A South Maui educator with four children ranging from third grade to college said she and her husband were doing some “major re-figuring” this month since the extended credit ended.

“We live paycheck to paycheck,” said Erin Hayden-Baldauf, who teaches at Lokelani Intermediate in Kihei.

Her daughter in college has student loans and must work more than 20 hours a week, as the family has no “cushion in our budget” to pay for living expenses, Hayden-Baldauf said. Her daughter only attends college part time so she can work.

“The child tax credit was going a long way to helping us support her during this critical time in her development,” Hayden-Baldauf said.

The family also took out a loan for a “junker” of a car so their 16-year-old son in high school can drive to work.

The child tax credit helped pay for the “beater cars” for their children along with the insurance, Hayden-Baldauf said.

Another Maui teacher, Justin Hughey, said the expanded credit was going to provide him and his wife, who is also a teacher, with $600 a month.

“That is a massive blow to us economically,” the Wailuku resident said. “Teachers in Hawaii are the lowest-paid teachers in the country.”

Hughey has a 2-year-old child and a 1-month-old. Child care for his elder child is $697 a month, and once they start paying for care for the second child, they’ll be spending almost $1,400 a month.

“My wife and I will be able to cope, but I feel for the homeless families I see living in their cars when I drive from Wailuku to Lahaina,” said Hughey, a special education teacher at King Kamehameha III Elementary School in Lahaina. “Also this will force teachers to move to the Mainland where they are paid competitive salaries in districts with the same cost of living.”

Hughey took some of his frustration to the State Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, where he is the education caucus representative, authoring a resolution “expressing disappointment in the actions of Congressman Ed Case” in regards to the passage of the Build Back Better agenda.

The resolution said that Hawaii Congressman Case, co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition in the U.S. House of Representatives, along with coalition members, delayed the passage of the act in the House and also hurt the Build Back Better agenda by supporting the removal of certain social safety net initiatives from provisions funding infrastructure.

The delay “contributed greatly to the weakening” of the bill’s agenda and left it with fewer benefits to Hawaii’s working families, the resolution said.

Case represents Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District, which covers the urban core of Honolulu.

Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, said in a news release earlier this month that its “grassroots party leaders clearly wanted to see President Biden’s Build Back Better bill passed in its original form, and were palpably disappointed when critical programs were not included in the final proposal that passed out of the House.”

The State Central Committee passed the resolution criticizing Case with 46 votes in support, 19 in opposition and one member abstaining. The resolution is not a motion of censure nor a cause for complaint hearing under the Hawaii party’s bylaws, but “expresses the strong sentiment of the State Central Committee’s members from across the state.”

Case said in an email that he was not notified of the resolution in advance nor provided any opportunity to explain his actions or answer questions.

Case said that Hughey implies that he did not support the expanded child tax credit, which “is completely false.”

“I voted for it and otherwise supported it on several occasions,” Case said.

He added that the resolution “omitted the basic fact” that on Nov. 19, he joined all but one fellow Democrat in voting for the House passage of the Biden-endorsed $2.1 trillion Build Back Better Act.

The House-passed version would extend the expanded child tax credit and also includes several initiatives to improve education, Case said.

Case acknowledged that he did support efforts to delink the Build Back Better Act from the $1 trillion bipartisan physical infrastructure package but pointed out that Biden made the same judgment and urged that the infrastructure package be passed and signed into law independent of the Build Back Better Act.

Maui County is slated to receive millions of dollars from the package, including $9.4 million for Kahului Airport along with millions more for county-managed bridges, Case said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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