Undocumented households should have access to the child tax credit

November 8, 2017

By Marlysa D. Gamblin

The House tax proposal contains language that would limit eligibility for the child tax credit (CTC) to taxpayers who provide a Social Security number (SSN). But this proposal is misguided. Requiring a SSN to file for the CTC will hurt both low-income families and local/state economies.

Losing access to the CTC would worsen hunger and poverty among U.S. citizen children who live with an undocumented parent. This group of 4.5 million children is already at higher risk of hunger and food insecurity—the term the U.S. department of Agriculture (USDA) uses for those who sometimes run out of money for food. This is certainly ironic given that the original intent of the CTC was to keep children from falling into poverty. And it succeeds in its mission: in 2016, the CTC lifted approximately 2.7 million people out of poverty, including about 1.5 million children.

People who file their taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) because they do not have an SSN can currently claim the CTC, so citizen children with undocumented parents can benefit from the tax credit. According to the Internal Revenue Service, there are more than 2 million working poor families who pay taxes with ITINs and would be affected by proposals that require a SSN.

Half of all families who claim the CTC earn less than $20,000 per year. Some live on far less, because undocumented farm workers earn as little as $7,500 a year—only one-seventh of the median national income of $59,039. Such low earnings explain why undocumented immigrant households have a food insecurity rate of nearly 24 percent—more than twice the national rate. The average CTC refund of $1,800 is a significant sum for families living in poverty, and one that will buy a lot of groceries.

The second harmful impact of restricting the CTC to taxpayers with SSNs is damage to local economies, particularly in communities with many immigrants. According to the Pew Research Center, there are 11.3 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, 8 percent of the workforce. They pay taxes and spend money in their local economies. In fact, undocumented immigrants currently pay $11.6 bil­lion annually in state and local taxes. That is in addition to the jobs they support with their local spending and in addition to federal taxes. Taking resources from families with children, many of whom are struggling to put food on the table, will only hurt local economies since these families will have less money to spend.

If we are serious about ending U.S. hunger and poverty, policymakers need to be serious about preserving the original intent behind smart policies such as the CTC. A tax refund for low-wage workers with children to support helps the workers, the children, and the economy. According to the ideals our country was founded on, we should be expanding opportunities for everyone so they can improve their own lives and those of their children. 

Marlysa D. Gamblin is the domestic advisor for policy and programs for specific populations at Bread for the World Institute. 

Losing access to the CTC would worsen hunger and poverty among U.S. citizen children who live with an undocumented parent.

from our Resource Library

For Education

  • The Nourishing Effect

    Hunger and food insecurity add at least $160 billion a year to U.S. healthcare costs.

  • Mass Incarceration: A Major Cause of Hunger

    Mass incarceration has far-reaching effects in the United States. It poses a significant barrier to ending U.S. hunger and poverty by 2030—a goal the United States adopted in 2015. But the connection is not always obvious.

  • Advancing Nutrition through Food Aid Reform

    The United States has long been a global leader in responding to humanitarian emergencies. Food assistance that includes nutritious food for pregnant women and young children is both a life-and-death matter for individuals and an economic imperative for countries.

For Faith

  • Unity Declaration on Racism and Poverty

    A diverse body of Christian leaders calls on the churches and Congress to focus on the integral connection.

    Dear Members of Congress,

    As the president and Congress are preparing their plans for this year, almost 100 church leaders—from all the families of U.S. Christianity—are...

  • In Times Like These … A Pan-African Christian Devotional for Public Policy Engagement

    This devotional guide invites deepened relationship with and among Pan-Af­rican people and elected leaders in the mission to end hunger and poverty.

  • Sermon by David Beckmann at Duke University Chapel

    Remarks delivered October 1, 2017 at Duke University Chapel in Chapel Hill in North Carolina.

    Thank you for inviting me to preach here at Duke University Chapel. And I especially want to thank the Bread for the World members who have come this morning.

    Bruce Puckett urged...

For Advocacy

  • Grassroots Advocacy Toolkit

    A set of how-to sheets for carrying out advocacy and fact sheets on the current issues Bread for the World is working on.

    For new and current Bread grassroots hunger activists.

    Ideal as a starter toolkit for new Bread activists or as a set of updates for current activists.


  • Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017

    Unnecessarily long prison sentences, combined with the lack of rehabilitative programs for people in prison, exacerbate hunger, poverty, and existing inequalities.

    Overly harsh mandatory minimum prison sentences have contributed to the rapid increase of our country’s prison population. The...

  • Health Care Is a Hunger Issue

    Learn more about the principles that Bread for the World supports regarding health reform.


Changing Climate, Changing Farmers

February 7, 2017


From the Blog