Fox News is struggling to mount a political argument against the upcoming monthly payments to families as part of the Biden administration’s expanded child tax credit, attempting to cast it as a welfare program that will make the poor want to stop working and people to have more children to get more money. Unsurprisingly, Fox is ignoring that these payments will benefit nearly all families except for the very rich and that the cost of actually raising a child is still far greater than the $250-300 monthly payments this tax credit will offer per child.
It is precisely because nearly everyone will benefit from this initiative that the job of attacking it could present such a challenge for a right-wing propaganda mill.
Biden and Democrats expanded the existing child tax credit and are distributing it up front
As part of the COVID-19 relief bill passed earlier this year, the administration will begin to send households monthly checks from July as an advance on the child tax credit rather than wait for tax-filing season next year to distribute the credits as lump sums. The payments will be for $300 per month for each child under the age of 6, and $250 for children from 6 through age 17. The full benefits start to phase out for married couples earning $150,000 jointly, and all told, the payments will cover 88% of children in households throughout the country.
For families out there, the payments will make a genuine difference in their lives. “It’s literally going to put food on the table and a roof over people’s heads,” Radha Seshgari, director of public policy and systems change at the non-profit group SaverLife, told CNBC. “Without the money, some people in some households are living on a razor’s edge.”
The tax credit itself is not an entirely new package; it is an expansion of previous Republican initiatives that raised the annual child tax credit to $2,000 per child. But there were so many strings attached to the previous credit that poorer families received less than middle- and upper-income families. Democratic lawmakers made key changes in the relief bill for this year’s credit in addition to the new advance payments. They not only raised the credit’s amount but also eliminated the $2,500 minimum income requirement and made the credit fully refundable, so people who earn too little money to pay federal income taxes would still receive the benefit. (Although this change is only applicable for this year, as part of the American Rescue Plan, progressive policymakers are campaigning to make the changes permanent.)
The payments are an upgrade on existing child tax credits. Fox obliviously asks, “Why the hell work?”
As explained above, the $300 checks are not a result of an entirely new policy but are instead an upgrade on existing tax credits and provide greater access for lower-income people. Furthermore, while more people at the lower end of the economic ladder have now gained access to the benefit, they also will not lose access to this benefit through earning more money on their own.
However, Fox News has been treating them almost as if they were an entirely new set of giveaways, which would stop the poor from working.
In effect, Fox is tying the payments with the network’s continuing campaign of demonizing people left unemployed from the COVID-19 pandemic. But the child tax credit amount is enough to only supplement the real costs of raising a child, and the phaseout level is so high that people have only more to gain by working.
But still, on the June 26 edition of Fox’s Unfiltered with Dan Bongino, the host accused Democrats of intentionally “trying to destroy the country” by “giving away money” to people “for doing nothing except having kids.”
Bongino read the headline and sub-headline from a Washington Post story: “The IRS on July 15 will start delivering a monthly payment of $300 per child under six, and $250 per child six or older for the rest of the year — without any action required,” adding, “Robbing people of the dignity of work.” (Bongino seemed to be using the “no action required” phrase in the Post story, which meant that most people don’t have to sign up for the payments, to instead make it sound like it was rewarding the unemployed.)
The child tax credits also attracted the wrath of multiple Fox hosts a week ago. A segment on the June 22 edition of Fox & Friends displayed a chyron that said, “Biden unveils largest child tax credit hike” — employing a term normally used for tax increases to refer instead a refundable tax credit that will put more money directly into people’s pockets. Co-host Steve Doocy then spoke to Fox Business host Charles Payne, who acknowledged the roots of the child tax credit under multiple Republican administrations from Gerald Ford through Donald Trump.
However, Payne said, the refundable tax credit now “aims to pay people extra money for not working” and was part of other government programs such as Medicaid or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that together would create a “Faustian deal” for people not to work. Doocy, in turn, asserted, “Critics are saying the government should not be paying people to have more children.”
“Listen, taxpayers obviously are going to be frustrated. If you’re working in a job and you’re not making a lot of money and this is an alternative, why the hell work? You know, why get in the labor system at all? Why start at the bottom of the ladder, you know, if you don’t see a way up, but this is a clear path to steady income?”
Doocy and Payne missed a key point, of course, that these payments are going out universally, to both low-income earners and the relatively more comfortable middle class. As such, a person at the bottom end of the ladder would still have incentives to keep earning even more.
Later in the program, Doocy played a clip of his prior conversation with Payne and repeated the argument that “the more children you have, the more $300 a month you get,” as if such an amount by itself could pay for a child. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt then seemed to acknowledge that families all across the economy do face financial strains and could derive a real benefit from these payments — including people who work at Fox News. But she framed it in the sense of displaying resentment toward people who would get such payments now.
Fox Business figures out the tax credit payments will be popular with the middle class
While Fox & Friends was bemoaning these payments as a supposed giveaway for the poor not to work last Tuesday, over on Fox Business, Bob Cusack, editor-in-chief of The Hill, acknowledged on Mornings with Maria Bartiromo: “This could be very popular, this child tax credit, if there's no fraud and there's no snags.”
Bartiromo then asked: “Are there any rules around this child credit — in other words — that it must be used for the child?” She then audibly scoffed when Cusack said there were no “stipulations” in the money, but that people would simply receive it via direct deposit or check.
Later that day, Fox Business host Neil Cavuto acknowledged that the payments were likely to become very popular, asking Rep. James Comer (R-KY) how Republicans would counter the “political saw” about “hurting children” with their opposition and the message from Democrats that the payments go to people who are working and that “it’s not just people who are not working.”
And that realization has sunk for others over the past week, too. As for Charles Payne, who previously decried the child tax credit payments as being part of a “Faustian” welfare state that allegedly entraps the poor, by this Tuesday he presented it as instead being a middle-class entitlement — which he and guest Douglas Holtz-Eakin of the American Action Forum saw as a different kind of threat.
“So, that’s not aiming at the lower-class individuals, the lower-income individuals. That’s aimed right at the middle class,” said Holtz-Eakin. “And so, they want to make that a standard part of benefits, and that’s trying to get the middle class dependent on the federal government for their monthly incomes, and this would be a monthly check from the government.”
Payne also worried: “Yeah, and it’s almost — I mean, I think it is impossible to take these programs away if they’ve been in place far too long.”