March 22, 2022

Most Common Uses of 2021 Child Tax Credit Payments: Food, Utilities, Housing, Clothes

Note: This blog post was published originally on Feb. 23, 2022, and then updated with new data on March 22, 2022.

The federal American Rescue Plan, enacted in March 2021, temporarily expanded the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to include advance monthly payments for many families from July through December 2021. These payments provided critical support during the pandemic to help parents cover basic living expenses, such as groceries and rent, or to help those struggling with debt or trying to save money.

About the Child Tax Credit Payments Data

The Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey gathered data on families who received these CTC payments during July–December 2021. Specifically, data was collected intermittently between July 21, 2021, and Feb. 7, 2022, and asked households with children under age 18 if anyone in the home had received a CTC payment in the past four weeks, followed by questions about use of the payments if applicable. While the most recent data collection period includes the first month of 2022, the data describe 2021 payments. The findings below cover the whole six-month timeframe unless otherwise noted.

These data are offered in the KIDS COUNT® Data Center’s special collection on COVID-19, along with other data on family experiences during the pandemic. Key takeaways about families who received CTC payments are highlighted below.

Key Findings

How Many Families Received Child Tax Credit Payments?

How Did Families Use Their Child Tax Credit Payments?

Did Families Mostly Spend, Save or Use the CTC to Pay Off Debt?

Overall, the data reveal that families increasingly spent (not saved) their 2021 CTC payments, and they increasingly spent this assistance on basic needs, including food, utilities, housing and clothing. This is consistent with other data showing that a rising share of families had difficulty paying for usual household expenses in the last half of 2021. Rising rates of inflation may have added to this difficulty, as well. The pandemic has hit families hard across America, especially families of color, and millions are still struggling. These findings point to the value of and need for the expanded Child Tax Credit, which offered vital support for parents trying to provide the most basic life necessities for their children.

Learn More About the 2021 Child Tax Credit and Family Experiences During COVID-19

Access all data in the KIDS COUNT Data Center on the Child Tax Credit and family experiences during the pandemic, including data on economic well-being, employment, housing, education, child care, health care, mental health and more. Many indicators are available by race and ethnicity, as well.

For decades, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has promoted the Child Tax Credit and advocated to strengthen it, as a tool to improve the lives of children and families. Explore the Foundation’s publications, blog posts and other resources related to the CTC, family poverty and the pandemic, including this selection of recent resources:

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