Food bank chief sees impact of tax credit expiration

In her job as executive director of the West Texas Food Bank, Libby Campbell has seen the effects of the pandemic and the issues revealed by it.

The expanded Child Tax Credit, part of the American Rescue Plan, impacted 4 million children and decreased child poverty by 40%, information from Children at Risk said.

Before the Child Tax Credit expansion, the organization said 1 in 2 children of color were not getting the full credit, compared to 1 in 4 white children. These children were also more likely to need the credit for fundamental needs such as food, information from Children at Risk stated.

The children became eligible through the ARP expansion because of three changes: increasing the amount per child, making the CTC fully refundable (thus removing the income requirement that had previously prevented the poorest children from benefiting from it), and giving parents the option to receive half their total credit in monthly payments of $200-$300 then get the remaining half when they would normally receive the credit in the spring.

Campbell took part in a conference call Feb. 2 organized by Children at Risk with representatives from several nonprofits around the state discussing the effect of the expiration.

“… I think it comes back to several conversation points as the pandemic really has brought some things to light — affordable health care, access to health care, especially in rural communities and … what that looks like and the cost of it,” Campbell said.

It’s also about inflation and the cost of food at the grocery store, the cost of child care and whether it’s worth it to some people to go back to work for what they’re paid.

“… When we talk about inflation, what does that really look like to you. Some people, if you make enough money, inflation really doesn’t affect you every day. But one thing we all talked about was the cost of bacon. Probably 90 percent of Americans, wherever you live, have eaten bacon or bought bacon at some point. A pack of bacon a year ago was $3 and something. Now if you go and buy a pack of bacon, it’s well over $6 in the store,” Campbell said.

“Especially if you’re an hourly employee that’s paid even $15 or $18, or maybe even $20 an hour, paying an extra $100-$150 a month at the grocery store for a family of four really can be devastating to your budget …, Campbell said.

The Child Tax Credit helped families cover the price increases they were seeing and helped lift people out of poverty, Campbell noted.

“… We were able to help children’s food insecurity rate at least balance out, not to continue rising. And now we’ve lost that, what is the impact really going to be? We probably really won’t know for the next 60 or 90 days, but I can tell you looking at what we did in pounds you can definitely tell when that tax credit started. That’s really when our pounds started to go down in our lines. But now we’re starting to see an increase again …,” Campbell said.

Although it’s only been a month since the CTC expired, inflation is continuing to rise and a snow event arrived Wednesday.

This will likely mean increased heating and food bills with children being at home.

“Usually the cycle, if you do get behind in bills, you don’t just magically come back to work and your first paycheck back you’re back to normal. You’re making up for lost ground. I think people were either able to tread water with that (the tax credit), or they were able to hopefully pay down some debt and be able to keep up with the rate of inflation,” Campbell said. “I think a lot of people truly are looking at what is the cost to go to work every day …”

If you consider the cost of fuel, increased grocery bills and the cost of daycare, it can make people wonder if it is worth what they are paid to go to work, she said.

“If they’re going to be in the hole and in the red at the end of the month, it’s probably not worth going back to work. …,” Campbell added.

A lot of bad things have come from the pandemic, but one good thing is that people are reevaluating their lives, taking into account work-life balance and family time, she said.

There’s also the consideration of staying home with children who are sick with COVID, having to hold their spot at daycare and not getting a paycheck because you can’t work.

“These are all scenarios that we have heard that have happened, so I think people really are trying to think through where do we make cuts and how do we get by and live in our crazy chaos and still try to provide a stable environment for our families in our homes,” Campbell said.

Before the pandemic, the food bank was distributing 6.8 million pounds of food. The first year of the pandemic, they were at 10.8 million.

“… Our fiscal year ends at the end of September, so we just finished our fiscal year. In fact, we’re just finishing our first quarter of our year … Last year, we did 12.8 million pounds of food distributed to the 19 counties, so we’ve more than doubled since this all began. There are lots of stories out there that we hear from our clients. They haven’t been able to go to work. Maybe their pay’s been cut, but they still have a job because of their health insurance,” Campbell said.

She said they are hearing from a lot of people right now that they don’t make enough money to make ends meet, but they also don’t qualify for benefits because they’re employed. At the same time, they don’t want to leave their jobs because they have health insurance.

Some have taken on multiple jobs, she said.

“We’re still doing drive-through distributions at Midland and the Odessa locations one day a week. We do change the times around based upon the season to try to help reduce wear and tear on our staff … but we still have over 200 cars at the Midland location once a week, and at the high point at the Odessa location, we were over 650 cars. We distributed 1.4 million pounds of food that month,” Campbell said.

The number of cars dropped down to 275-300, but it’s starting to inch back slowly.

“… Most of those were people who had never needed any kind of assistance before, so over 25 percent of our clients we see today have never needed any form of assistance whether that’s SNAP, unemployment, food bank. They’re kind of new to the system, but we’re back over 350-plus cars a week at the Odessa facility and I suspect that it will continue to go up,” Campbell said.

“I think we are going to continue to see probably a big jump come mid-February, and especially in March. I think part of that will be due to the lack of the child tax credit, especially as the cost of groceries …,” she added.

The agencies on the call from El Paso, Austin and Dallas are also starting to see their numbers rise.

She said the root cause is probably the pandemic, but “now it’s become very layered with all these other issues that have developed.”

Campbell said she always says that West Texas is a very resilient community that takes care of its own.

“We want to provide stability to our clients and to our community in times of instability …,” Campbell added.

If people are able to volunteer, they can through the volunteer hub and if they have resources, Campbell said, please donate to the food bank.

She added that there is some fatigue among staff from anxiety and worry about COVID, but they have made it through by supporting and rallying around each other.

Campbell noted that people who work at the food bank view it as a calling.

Along with Campbell, participants listed on the call were Bob Sanborn, president and CEO of Children at Risk; Mary Garr, president and CEO, Family Service (San Antonio); Onia Mayberry, parent member, North Texas Early Learning Alliance; John Siburt, CitySquare, Dallas; Francisco Gallegos, United Way Austin; Esmeralda Chavez, parent; and Cristina Guajardo, parent.

More information

In March 2021, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan (ARP) which included an expansion of the decades old Child Tax Credit (CTC), information from the organization Children at Risk detailed.

The expanded credit impacted 4 million children and decreased child poverty by 40%. The first payment saw a 7.5% decline in food insufficiency among low-income families with children.

Parents received their first payment in July 2021 and monthly payments continued until December when the expansion expired. The most common uses of the CTC payments among Texas families were purchasing food for their family (50%), managing bills (39%), and paying for school expenses (37%), or clothing/other essentials for their children (35%), the information said.

Data from the 2021 credit shows that parents overwhelmingly used extra funds for child and family expenses. According to the Brookings Institute, the most common planned use was building emergency savings (75%), followed by paying for routine expenses (67%), essential items for children (58%), purchasing more or better food (49%), starting or growing a college fund (42%), and paying for child activities (42%), the information said.