On voting rights: “If they’re not going to have a debate out in the open, who are they talking to in secret?”

by Robin Kemp

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock met with parents at the Oak Leaf School in Fayetteville Wednesday to discuss the Child Tax Credit and the difficulties parents have been facing since the COVID-19 outbreak began.

The tax credit gives parents $250 to $300 per child each month. If you are a parent who has not yet signed up. you have until November 15 to do so. And if you miss the deadline, you can still claim up to $3,600 per child when you file your taxes. For each child age 6 to 17, parents can claim $2,000. For each child younger than 6, parents can claim up to $3,600. The credit applies to all working families who make up to $150,000 per couple or up to $112,500 for a single parent/head of household.

Six parents told Warnock about the impact the Child Tax Credit made on their families:

Vanessa Williams, 45, a paraprofessional and single mother of a 3-year old and 10-year old at Oak Leaf School, who was laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic and who called the Child Tax Credit a “lifeline” for her children. “I had to quit and make a decision whether I was going to work or whether I was going to take care of my child. My child went to virtual [learning] immediately, and because she went to virtual immediately, I had to make a choice…so the pandemic hit me hard. I thank God for grace that kept me through the year, that I was able to make provision throughout the year of finances….So this was beneficial when it did come for me in July, very beneficial for the month to month. My issue is that December is coming and we don’t have provision. Say it doesn’t pass. What happens to us in January?….I’m grateful. I wish we would have had it before July, but that was a different administration at the time, so it would have been very beneficial, for gas, for just basic things of life for me…I’m grateful for it. Out of this whole pandemic, parents were most affected.”

Warnock replied, “Thank you. You put your finger right on the issues.” He said some called the pandemic a “she-demic” because women have been disproportionately affected: “The impact on women’s ability to stay employed and stay on the job is disproportionate to their representation in the labor market.”

Fernando Chien, 47, a filmmaker, actor, and father of a 9-month-old at Oak Leaf School, who filmmaker and actor, said the tax credit is “not like it’s paying for childcare. It’s only bridging part of it. But it’s a necessary bridge. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be able to go back to work and I wouldn’t be able to go back to work. Somebody would be home…how does that move our economy forward?…Even if we did happen to be stay-at-home, or work-from-home, that divides our efficiency. Also, I’ve been in Zoom meetings with her on my knee, trying to keep her quiet, while tilting the camera…you know what I mean? Now my brain is split. How am I being efficient? How am I being more productive in that scenario?”

Oak Leaf School Director Noni Walton (left) and paraprofessional Hannah Smith (right) met with U.S. Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock on Nov. 10, 2021 to discuss the Child Tax Credit and the impact that COVID-19 has had on parents and children. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

Raeven Gibson, 29, single mother of a 2-year-old at Oak Leaf School, is using the tax credit to catch up on bills and pay for childcare. She works in event sales. When COVID-19 hit, not a lot of people were in the market for events. “I’m a single mom. Once the pandemic hit, I was furloughed from my job. Oak Leaf was closed. So I was at home, with my son, with no job, and although we were in a pandemic, he still needed to eat, he still needed diapers and wipes. I still needed to figure it out for my son. So this Child Tax Credit has helped me catch up… I was out of work for about ten and a half months. So that has helped me catch up on my bills that I was not paying last year. And when I started back working, that–again, I was only able to work part-time because I couldn’t afford childcare. Thank God I have family that can help me out now, but back then, we were all struggling during this pandemic. So I need you to keep fighting. I have friends, I have single moms as well. We need this….So that’s my little bump to get everything caught up. God willing, I’ll be caught up on everything next year, and then I can just keep going.” Gibson said she is now doing a different kind of sales job that pays less. “This has been a blessing….it has been hard, but we are making it.”

Warnock fist-bumped Gibson.

“I just want to say, hats off to you for continuing the fight….I mean it., you’re still standing. I think very often in this pandemic, because it’s been so harsh, it’s been so difficult, that it’s only after this pandemic is over that we’re going to be able to take stock of what has happened to us. Because it’s so overwhelming that, if you slow down too much and let it sink in too deeply, I think most of us are afraid that the shadows begin to overwhelm you. But the truth is, the whole world is going through PTSD, and in our country, what is it, 760,000 lives gone and counting?…So when people ask ‘well, where are the workers?’ Well, some of them are dead. 760,000 people have perished. And their families, and the implications of that for their families, whether it’s children, or elderly that have to be taken care of, it’s just been overwhelming. And you’re still standing. So I’m praying for you. And in Washington, I’m fighting for you.”

Hannah Smith, 26, an early childhood educator at Oak Leaf School and single mother of a 2-year-old there, said the tax credit puts food on their table. “I’m a single mom, as well, so the extra money I get, it goes towards food, diapers, clothes for my son. Cause I don’t get any help like, child support-wise. I do it by myself. And having to work and being able to find a job that is okay with your child being sick without letting you go because of it, it’s hard. If I have used a paycheck towards bills, it goes towards stuff that my child needs. So I would be grateful if it continued.”

Noni Walton, executive director of Oak Leaf School and a parent herself, described the overall impact of the Child Tax Credit and childcare in the pandemic. “I look at it form the parent’s perspective. I’m an older mom. My kids are all grown. But, providing safe, loving, nurturing care for the children here at the Oak Leaf School, and having parents being able to afford that care, we try to keep our rates as low as possible in comparison to what our philosophy usually charges. But my fear is, if this bill doesn’t pass, what’s going to happen to these families? Are they going to have care, or are they going to have to then go and find substandard care, or illegal care, for their babies? I don’t want that.”

AUDIO: Warnock meets with parents

Warnock said that, as the father of a three-year-old and a five-year-old, “I know firsthand how expensive childcare is,” adding, “If you really want to change the world, invest in 0 to 4, 0 to 5–that’s where the real power and possibility lies….You’re never as smart as you were when you were three years old.”

He emphasized that the tax credit was actually a tax cut–“the largest tax cut for working families in American history. 97 percent of American families with children benefit from this,” and that the move cut child poverty in half nationwide and 46% in Georgia.

U.S. Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock meets with parents at Oak Leaf School. Fayetteville, GA, Nov. 10, 2021. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

“I think the thing that people miss so often in the very predictable and trite debates that happen so often in Washington is that these investments are not–these investments are actually about helping people to work. Every time you talk about helping ordinary folks, working-class people, you get all this moralizing language about work, and the importance of work, and those arguments often miss the point. What we want to do is make investments that help people go to work, and that provides for them a floor. And so those basic anxieties are allayed, and they can get a job, and stay engaged.”

The senator added that he was “excited about the Expanded Child Tax Credit,” which is part of the American Rescue Plan. “The implications of it are impactful in ways we haven’t seen in a generation.” (He noted that he himself had benefited from the Head Start program.)

Before the tax credit was expanded, he said, “the people who needed it the most didn’t get it. Ironically, some folks were too poor to get it. And you were better off qith at higher income levels than lower income levels. So there was this gap that we filled. And also, I think it’s great that it comes every month. All you have to do is file your taxes. You don’t have to wait till the end of the month. In a country where the average American has $400 in their bank account, this is helpful. And I think it’s not only helpful to these families. I think it’s helpful to the American economy.

“When ordinary people get just a little bit of relief, they go and and they buy extravagant things,” Warnock said, “like a coat for their kid. Baby diapers. Food. Things like strengthen the consumer economy.”

Parents at the daycare told Warnock that a few hundred dollars had made a big difference for them and their children.

“Poor parents, middle-class parents, want the same thing that rich parents want,” Warnock said. “They want to make sure that their child is in a safe place where they’re actually learning and growing. And so this is why it’s important to have more investments in early childcare. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. It’s the only way for our country to be competitive in a global market into the future.”

The conversation turned at one point to voting rights. Farren Hoskins, 33, mother of an 11-month-old and 3-year-old at the school, asked, “I should probably know this, but when is voting on [voting rights] taking place, and when do you personally think, like how high of a threat there is for it not coming into legislation?”

Warnock said two pieces of legislation are critical to preserving voting rights: the Freedom to Vote Act, which he cosponsored, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which if passed would restore federal court preclearance of any changes to voting in states–like Georgia–that have a history of violating voters’ rights.

“A 911 emergency”

Warnock described the FTA, which he and seven other senators wrote, as “the response to the 911 emergency that our democracy is in right now….the Freedom to Vote Act is about putting the fire out. Our democracy is in a 911 emergency. The John Lewis Voting rights Act is about building a fire station for future fires.”

“We saw a violent and vicious attack on the United States Capitol that metastasized into a rabid campaign of voter suppression bills introduced in some 49 states. Some of those have passed into law, and their goal is simple: to make sure less people vote. They want less people to vote to ensure that the system is rigged so that they can control the outcome. I want more people to vote. I want every eligible American to be able to vote.”

He added, “I literally was on the phone with [Sen. Chuck] Schumer’s office on the way to this meeting, talking about how we’re going to get this passed. I’m talking with Senator Manchin, it comes up all the time, and we’ve got some more conversations about what we may have to do…My position is, we’ve gotta pass voting rights no matter what. And if it involves a rules change, then that’s what we have to do. I’d love to see our Republican colleagues get on board. Again, we’re asking them to join us in a a debate. You know, we introduced the bill. If you don’t like this one, come with some amendments. Let’s have a debate. And they won’t even have a debate.

“Think about this,” he continued. “People talk about how divided the country is. Democrats and Republicans both talk about how something is awry in our democracy. They describe it and understand it differently. But everybody–doesn’t matter whether you turn on Fox or MSNBC–Republicans and Democrats are saying, ‘There’s something broken in our democracy.’ Well, if there’s something broken in our democracy, shouldn’t the United States Senate be debating about what that is? They won’t even let us have a debate in the world’s most consequential deliberative body.

“So the question becomes historically, if you’ve got dozens of voter suppression bills passed in 49 states, and an upcoming election, and you have people on both sides of the aisle saying, ‘Well, something’s wrong with democracy,’ they’re having audits in Texas and Arizona, what every voter ought to be saying is, ‘If they’re not going to have a debate out in the open, who are they talking to in secret?”

Warnock posed for pictures with the parents, then met with some pint-sized constituents to read a book to them.

The title? Dream Big.

If you’re a parent, you can check your eligibility for the 2021 Child Tax Credit, which started in July, on the Internal Revenue Service’s Advance Child Tax Credit Payment webpage. Here’s a video explaining how it works:


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