This report analyzes the main provisions of the federal income tax code that provide benefits to families with children, comparing current law with what would be happening had the TCJA not been enacted, and discusses the TCJA’s implications for families of different income levels. On net, almost all families owe less tax now than they would have absent the TCJA. But for low- and middle-income families, the net benefit from the TCJA is often far lower than might be expected. For very low–income families, the benefit of the new tax law is as little as $75.
Policymakers could increase benefits for low-income families by (1) allowing the full $2,000 credit to be received as a refund; (2) phasing the credit in as soon as a person has earnings, rather than requiring that a parent has earned at least $2,500 as is the case under current law; (3) phasing in the credit more quickly than under current law; or (4) providing the full credit without any phase in.