Christina Darling and children

Christina Darling of Nashua with sons Kayden, 10, and Brennan, 4.

Christina Darling, a Nashua mother of two, is one of the thousands of New Hampshire parents anticipating the first advance payments from the expanded child tax credits this week.

Advocates note the monthly payments of $300 for younger children and $250 for school-age kids is not really enough to cover the high cost of child care. But the money will help families cover other basic expenses, which could help keep more people working, and nudge more parents back to work.

Darling plans to save up the payments to make a down payment on a more reliable car. Every time she goes to start the car, she braces herself to see the “check engine” light click on. She has missed work because the car would not start.

“My car was supposed to last me a year, and that was four years ago,” Darling said with a laugh. The payments won’t completely change her circumstances, she said, but they’ll help.

“These payments are going to help me get up to that next level, so I can be independent,” she said.

The IRS estimates that 88% of American children’s families will receive the expanded tax credits for low- and middle-income families with children. Parents who qualify will get half of the child tax credits in monthly payments each month through December, and the other half will come as a tax credit when families file their tax returns for 2021.

The payments will not make much of a dent in child care costs. A family with two children pays on average $22,000 per year for child care, said Amanda Sears, director of the Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy.

But the monthly payments from the tax credit will help ease some of the strain on families like Darling’s, who need help paying for essentials like food and transportation, especially after a year when so many families faced layoffs and day care disruptions, and school closures took their toll on family finances.

“Parents in part have had a lot of challenges due to the pandemic, regardless of their situation,” Sears said. “This tax credit can really help to make a difference for those families.”

Not getting anywhere

The pandemic set Darling back on her financial goals. She has been working full-time and received a child care scholarship for her younger son, Brennan, 4. But to work over the last year, she had to pay for a YMCA program for her older son, Kayden, 10, because Nashua schools did not bring children back to school until late April.

“I’m proud of my ability to stretch a dollar,” she said, but this year has made it impossible to save.

“How am I working so many hours a week and not getting anywhere?” Darling asks herself sometimes. She feels stuck in a cycle of needing child care to work, and needing work to pay for child care, and never having quite enough.

“It just loops, over and over again,” she said.

She is happy the payments will come, but hopes Congress will vote to make the extra help for families permanent.

Crystal Paradis, of the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation, said she thinks more intervention at all levels of government is needed to help families recover financially from the pandemic.

Women especially are having trouble getting back into the workforce, she said, because they cannot find child care, have trouble justifying the high cost of care so they can work a lower-paying job, or simply cannot afford care.

“Child tax credits are super helpful,” Paradis said. “Any policies that can help families, and in particular, women-led families, are really critical.”