ICYMI: DENVER POST: How Colorado’s senior senator Michael Bennet helped create a major anti-poverty program

Denver Today, the Denver Post highlighted Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet’s seven year effort to expand and improve the Child Tax Credit. 

The expanded, fully refundable Child Tax Credit, based on Bennet’s American Family Act, will cut child poverty in nearly half nationwide and benefit nearly 90 percent of Colorado children. The expansion of the Child Tax Credit was signed into law as part of the American Rescue Plan Act

This week, Biden released his American Families Plan, which includes extending the Child Tax Credit increases through 2025 and making the Child Tax Credit permanently fully refundable. Bennet will work with the administration and his colleagues in Congress to ensure any final plan includes making the entire CTC expansion permanent.

The full article is available HERE and below.

Denver Post: How Colorado’s senior senator Michael Bennet helped create a major anti-poverty program

Robyn Boyles and her husband were restaurant cooks before the whole world changed in March 2020. First came unemployment, then pregnancy — a miracle the Boyles had been waiting for but were now terrified by — and then the diagnosis: COVID-19.

“It was horrible, I have never been so sick in my life,” she recalled. “I actually was sent to the hospital, because I couldn’t breathe. I can’t tell you how frightening that was – not knowing if I would be OK or how it would affect my unborn baby.”

She injected blood thinners into her pregnant belly and the baby was later born healthy. But debt piled up and didn’t go away when vaccines arrived and part-time work returned. Paying rent and other bills is a monthly struggle.

Beginning in July, Boyles can pay some of those with $300 monthly checks she’ll receive from the federal government. For the first time in U.S. history, the government will pay all low-income and most middle-class parents a significant monthly allowance for each child, an idea that is decades old and popular in Europe, but required a 20-year lift in Congress.

At the center of this $120 billion social safety net — which is forecast to cut child poverty nearly in half but could expire after one year — is Colorado’s senior U.S. senator, a wonky and unassuming 56-year-old millionaire who pushed this idea through during a new era of big government spending and direct checks.

“I believe we are on the cusp of an amazing moment in American history,” Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet told a group of mothers in early April, “when we can say that we improved the fortunes of millions and millions of children and their families, but also the country as a whole.”


When the federal government created the child tax credit in 1997, one year after welfare reforms agreed to by President Bill Clinton and Republicans in Congress, the goal was to compel people to work rather than stay home. As a result, the $400-per-child benefit could only be deducted from taxes owed.

“There was a view … that you ought not make it available to the poorest people in the country because somehow it would disincentivize them from working,” Bennet said in an interview.

That differentiated it from child tax allowances, a policy preferred in much of Europe and Canada, in which the government sends parents monthly checks without any strings attached. This is known in policy parlance as “refundability.”

Because America’s child tax credit was not refundable, the poorest parents did not receive it because they did not earn enough money to owe federal taxes.

Enter the Harrises, William and David, a wealthy father-son duo who began pushing the idea of a refundable credit on Capitol Hill in the 2000s. William, the father, started KidsPAC in 1981 to advocate for anti-child-poverty programs. David, the son, is a researcher at Columbia University, where he has made the academic case for anti-poverty programs.

By 2014, the Harrises were in Bennet’s office, pitching him on refundability.

“I can remember they were meeting in my chief of staff’s office and I walked in and that’s when we had the conversation,” the senator recalled.

In Bennet, the Harrises would gain a champion in the Senate. On the House side, they had Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who has been in Congress since 1991 and has supported refundable child tax credits since 2003.

“Killing themselves”

Bennet hails from a posh northeastern pedigree — St. Albans (“the smartest boarding school in America,” according to Business Insider), Wesleyan University (the alma mater of his father, grandfather and the Harrises) and Yale Law. The Washington Post once described his voice and that of his brother, a former editor at The New York Times, as “deep and slow, almost a perfect parody of a rich person, as if they speak only while swirling a martini.”

Bennet understands poverty the way an anthropologist understands ancient civilizations: with a detached but sincere interest, honed over decades of conversation and study. He doesn’t know what it’s like to miss a meal or a rent payment, but he has heard the stories, especially in the three and a half years he was superintendent of Denver Public Schools.

He stood in auditoriums and told angry parents that their child’s school was closing, sat with them in their homes and listened for hours. “What they told me,” Bennet said, “is that they were working really hard — some would say they were killing themselves — but no matter what they did they couldn’t get their kids out of poverty.”

In 2017, Bennet introduced the American Family Act to create a fully refundable and monthly child tax credit of $300 for kids under the age of six and $250 for children older than six. By 2019, 38 Democratic senators supported the bill, ranging ideologically from Bernie Sanders of Vermont to Jon Tester of Montana. But it wasn’t voted on.

Bennet, meanwhile, was formulating a presidential platform, and made a refundable child tax credit the centerpiece.

“Not many people noticed that I did run for president but when I was in rooms talking to people, this is what I would talk about,” Bennet recalled. “People would say, ‘What about this or what about that’ — Medicare for All or whatever — and I would say, ‘I don’t know, but we can cut child poverty almost in half with just one change to the tax code.’ People were interested in that, I think, but many people didn’t think it could be done or that it was real.”

Bennet’s longshot presidential hopes ended in New Hampshire on Feb. 11, 2020. A month later, the nation was staring down a pandemic and an economic cliff that would crush the lower class and leave Congress searching for solutions. DeLauro and Bennet were ready with one.

“(A)ll of a sudden it was viewed as the most elegant solution to a really serious problem we were facing,” he said.

As President Joe Biden prepared to enter the White House in mid-January and introduce a massive stimulus and pandemic relief package, supporters of the child tax credit in Congress went to work lobbying the incoming administration. DeLauro calls them the CTC Six — Sens. Bennet, Sherrod Brown and Cory Booker; Reps. DeLauro, Suzan DelBene and Ritchie Torres — and they wanted their policy in the $1.9 trillion package.

According to Bennet, a former staffer who had joined the Biden administration told him the package, known as the American Rescue Plan, would include a fully refundable child tax credit but not an increase in how much money parents would get per month.

It was a partial victory and the so-called CTC Six wanted more.

“We all spent this weekend calling people in the White House and having conversations with folks about this,” Bennet recalled. He wanted refundability and an expansion, as he had proposed in his American Family Act four years before.

The senator texted Susan Rice, his friend, as well as a top Biden aide on domestic policy and the former national security advisor.

“I wrote the longest text I’ve ever sent anybody in my life. It was about the different levels of the (CTC), what it would mean to keep the whole thing intact, what the reduction in childhood poverty would look like and what the incremental cost would be of doing this,” he said. “I went to bed and I got up in the morning and discovered that the whole thing had been put in the package.”

Congress sent the package to Biden, who signed it in March, despite an absence of Republican support. It expanded the child tax credit to $3,600 per year for children under the age of six and $3,000 for older children up to age 17 — the dollar amounts Bennet introduced in 2017. Payments will begin in July but the expansion and refundability will expire after one year.

Earlier this week, the president unveiled his next massive spending bill, the American Families Plan, that would extend the refundable child tax credits until 2025. But the Democrats who’ve championed the policy fear it could be eliminated if power changes hands when 2025 rolls around.

“FDR never put an expiration date on Social Security for senior citizens,” Torres told reporters Tuesday. His south Bronx district is the nation’s poorest. “Why should President Biden put an expiration date on Social Security for families and children?”

The idea is gaining support from a few Republicans. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri introduced a refundable credit of $12,000 a year for married parents Monday. But other Republicans, such as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, have criticized refundability.

“If pulling families out of poverty were as simple as handing moms and dads a check, we would have solved poverty a long time ago,” Rubio wrote in National Review earlier this year. “There is substantially more to lifting families out of poverty than government-provided income.”

“It helps”

Bennet has three kids and is gearing up for a third re-election race next year. He is the longest-serving senator from Colorado since Gordon Allott, who retired in 1973, and another term would make Bennet the longest-serving since Henry Teller in 1909.

Some members of the CTC Six say the policy will be their legacy. Brown, an Ohio Democrat who has worked in government since Watergate, said Tuesday it is “the highlight of my long career in government and elected office.”

When asked whether child tax credits will be his legacy, Bennet said, “There’s nothing I’ve worked on that’s going to make more of a difference to the American people or the kids that I used to work for in Denver Public Schools.”

That includes people like Whitney Phinney, of Centennial, a scientist at a diagnostics lab. She and her husband Tim have two kids and struggle financially.

The Phinneys were skeptical when they heard the government would begin sending checks.

“We were kind of like, ‘Well, that’s not really going to happen, is it?’ …” Whitney Phinney said, adding that they will benefit from the extra money. “… It helps relieve some of the pressure of the massive expenses that come with having kids.”