Minnesota is building a path to ending child poverty, which has persisted in our state — and our country — for far too long. Because of a new, sweeping set of child tax credits passed in the 2023 legislative session, countless families in our state will be more financially secure.
Beginning in 2024, families across our state will receive direct payments of up to $3,000, with no strings attached, that they can use to make ends meet. It's a guaranteed income for families, and we've seen evidence from across the country of the positive impact it will have.
In 2019, Mayor Michael D. Tubbs of Stockton, Calif., launched the nation's first mayor-led guaranteed income pilot program that gave $500 to 125 residents for two years. The $500 didn't just help people survive to the end of the month, but it also unlocked a whole world of economic potential for those families. Recipients experienced less income volatility and improved physical health, further emphasizing the role economic security plays beyond just a bank balance.
With people struggling due to longstanding inequity coupled with the devastating financial effects of the pandemic, more guaranteed income pilots started emerging across the country, including here in Minnesota.
In 2020, I led our first guaranteed income pilot as mayor of St. Paul, which was the second pilot program in the nation and the first to leverage public funds. Since then, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Ramsey County Commissioners Rena Moran and Trista MatasCastillo, and Hennepin County Commissioners Irene Fernando, Angela Conley and Marion Greene have joined the movement to invest directly in our constituents.
There are so many stories of people overcoming obstacles with the stability of guaranteed income. The new documentary, "It's Basic," follows local and national participants through their daily lives and brings these stories of hope to light. "It's Basic" premiered at the Tribeca Festival in June, and I'm proud that we hosted a free screening in St. Paul this month.
No one argues that we're winning the war on poverty, so that means we have to change our approach. Anti-poverty initiatives haven't worked because they've been trying to solve the wrong problem. Right now, the government creates a program and decides what a family can use money for under that program. When we do that, we're saying, "We know better than you how to raise your children, or what your family needs." We're saying implicitly that the cause of poverty is a lack of character or judgment among families who are low income, instead of recognizing that the cause is a lack of money.
This is why Minnesota's new child tax credits are a huge step forward. Families earning less than $50,000 will receive up to $3,000 in additional cash.
Just having a little bit more money left at the end of the month, or to make it to the end of the month, gives families the cushion that they need to take a risk and maximize their economic potential. Just look at what happened when the Biden administration increased the federal child tax credit during the pandemic: Child poverty fell to its lowest level on record.
But when Congress let it expire, it let those children and families slip right back into poverty. Allowing children to grow up with a lack of resources leads to a lifetime of stunted opportunity on top of greater costs to society. In fact, research found the expanded childhood tax credit had 10 times the return on investment. The question is not whether we can afford to end child poverty, it's how can we afford not to.
In just the same way as we can find seemingly unlimited resources when we commit as a country to going to the moon or going to war, I would love to see us provide that level of mission clarity where the war on poverty is concerned. And that's what we're doing here in Minnesota. I will continue leading the fight for a guaranteed income in our state and our country, because all Americans deserve an income floor.
Melvin Carter is mayor of St. Paul.