NASFAA's Altitude: Public Opinions and Lessons From the Child Tax Credit

By Justin Draeger, NASFAA President and CEO

Welcome to NASFAA's "Altitude" a new-ish Today's News series that aims to provide a 30,000-foot view on the intersections of economics, public policy, management, and student financial aid. Look for an assortment of links, reactions, conversations, and other missives from NASFAA President Justin Draeger and others. It may be easier to say what this series isn't: a place to find answers to tough regulatory and implementation questions. We'll be trying out this series over the next few months, so please send us your comments and follow us on Twitter

Why Isn't Biden's Expanded Child Tax Credit More Popular? Ian Prasad Philbrick poses this question in The New York Times. Since July 2021, the federal government has sent families of 61 million children hundreds of dollars in monthly payments. However, more Americans in recent polling have said that the child tax credits should not be made permanent. 

  • Republican and Democratic Lawmakers Agree: Expanding support for families appears to be a bipartisan issue, at least in terms of introduced legislation. Democrats would extend the child tax credit via Build Back Better, and Republicans have proposed their own financial support for families, via Sen. Mitt Romney's (R-Utah) Family Security Act, which would be even more generous than the BBB expanded child tax credit. 

  • Between the Lines: Polling and focus groups indicate that a permanent expansion of the child tax credit faces two public opinion challenges: (1) Skeptics of "something for nothing" and (2) potential abuses. Focus groups found that making the child tax credit more permanent would be more palatable to most Americans if it addressed those two caveats: 

    1. Work Component: Polling data from fall 2021 shows that more people would support a permanent expanded child tax credit if people were required to work. Roughly 90% of respondents said that a child tax credit should be contingent on people working some (59%) or all (31%) of the time. 

    2. Addressing Fears of Abuse: Focus groups organized by the Institute for Family Studies found many feared recipients would spend the funds irresponsibly. That was true even of those who were benefiting from the program. 

  • Why It Matters: Taking all of this into account, the polling and focus group responses raise some questions for the student aid programs. 

    1. First, why aren't self-help programs like Federal Work-Study more popular, and, more importantly, better funded? 

    2. Second, why haven't proposals that would require upfront public service in exchange for free college gotten more traction? Conceivably, this would be more easy to implement than back-end forgiveness. 

    3. How do we continue to balance program integrity and abuse against access to the very programs meant to help needy families? Hopefully we've struck a new balance as we move into new federal methodology changes, but the pendulum is always in motion.  

  • Bottom Line: If we've learned anything in recent history, it's that we should take polling and focus groups with a grain of salt and understand that what people say and what they think privately may be two different things. But that same polling data would explain why most Americans are upset about the failures of  the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, even if they aren't personally benefiting.  

What do you think? Send us your comments and let us know. 


Publication Date: 1/20/2022

David S | 1/20/2022 9:52:48 AM

Why isn't Biden's child tax credit more popular? Because one side of the American political spectrum and the click-seeking, compliant media have convinced the American public that rich people deserve huge tax breaks because of jobs they don't create (and because the real American Dream is to be rich and not pay any taxes), while any assistance for poor people is nanny state socialist handouts.

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