The percentage of U.S. families who could not afford sufficient food increased substantially in the months after the federal government’s advance child tax credit cash payments expired late last year, a new analysis has found.
These findings, published on Friday in JAMA Network Open, confirmed earlier fears from public health experts, according to the authors: that the end of this monthly federal pandemic benefit could push millions of American families back into poverty and hunger.
The monthly cash benefits were a key component of the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan — providing about 92 percent of U.S. households up to $3,000 per child ages 6 to 17 and up to $3,600 per child under 6 from July through December 2021, the authors noted. Half of the credit amount was distributed ahead of time as advance monthly payments.
From January to July of this year, food insufficiency increased by about 25 percent among families with children, after they stopped receiving payments on Jan. 15, the study found.
“This significant increase in food insufficiency among families with children is particularly concerning for child health equity,” lead author Allison Bovell-Ammon, director of policy and communications at Children’s HealthWatch at Boston University School of Public Health, said in a statement.
“Child health, development, and educational outcomes are strongly linked to their family’s ability to afford enough food,” Bovell-Ammon continued. “Even brief periods of deprivation during childhood can have lasting impacts on a child.”
Bovell-Ammon’s analysis follows up on a previous Boston University investigation — published in JAMA Network Open in January — indicating that the expansion of the child tax credit program reduced food insufficiency by 26 percent in 2021.
In the current study, Bovell-Ammon and her colleagues said they examined nationally representative census data on demographics, employment, social supports and food insufficiency among about 600,000 families from July 2021 through July 2022.
Not only did the expiration of the monthly payments increase food insufficiency, but it also exacerbated the racial and economic inequities in consistent access to healthy food, according to the study.
Low-income households endured the biggest surges in food insufficiency after the advance payments ended — especially in the spring, after many families likely used up the second half of their advance payments, the authors observed.
Single-adult, non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic households also encountered greater food insufficiency after losing their payments, the researchers found.
The expanded child tax credit payments in 2021 had helped reduce racial inequities by ensuring that Black, Latino and Indigenous children who had previously been excluded from the full benefits of the program received them, according to the study.
Immigrant families also faced obstacles when trying to access child tax credit benefits — an issue that continued for many families even when they were eligible, added study coauthor Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba, a research associate professor at Boston University School of Public Health and executive director of Children’s HealthWatch.
“Following the expiration of the payments at the end of 2021, the gains in racial equity were eroded, potentially further exacerbating racial and health inequities and increasing distrust,” Ettinger de Cuba said.