By Janelle Calderon/The Nevada Independent

For Frankie Perez, an Air Force veteran and foster parent to five of his nieces and nephews, the recently expanded federal child tax credit allowed him to not only keep his home afloat during the pandemic but also to “better the quality of life” of the children by helping pay for school uniforms, sports and family outings.

Perez, who is a stay-at-home dad, took in the children nearly two years ago as he was attempting to finish his bachelor’s degree and the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. The children’s co-parent had to stop working because she is immunocompromised.

“Without the child tax credit, she would have been forced to go to work and she could have gotten sick and that could have had a ripple effect for our whole family,” Perez said. “So the child tax credit has literally helped to save our family — keeping us safe, keeping us together.”

In March 2021, the American Rescue Plan temporarily increased the annual child tax credit from $2,000 per child to $3,000 per child for children 6 to 17 and from $2,000 to $3,600 for children under the age of 6, and made the payments monthly rather than a lump sum when filing federal taxes. From July 15 to Dec. 15, families would receive monthly checks for $250 to $300 per child.

But Nevada officials fear that families similar to Perez’s may be missing out. According to Pat Smith, program director for free income tax preparation nonprofit Nevada Free Taxes Coalition, there are around 17,000 children in Nevada not included in tax returns, leaving up to $52 million of the child tax credit unclaimed. White House statistics showed that, in the month of July alone, $143 million would be used to help 560,000 children in Nevada.

Smith mentioned the figure during a Monday roundtable discussion at Acelero Learning, an early childhood education facility in North Las Vegas, that featured Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) and U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo and focused on spreading awareness of the expanded tax credit.

“The outreach is critically important. Because these are folks that are on SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] or food stamps,” Smith said. “These are grandparents that are taking care of the grandkids and they just have Social Security — never needed to file [taxes] … It’s critically important that we continue to talk to all of our people that have children: ‘Make sure you get your child tax credit, if not here’s what you need to do.’”

Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo joins Rep. Steven Horsford (NV-04) at Acelero Learning for a roundtable discussing the child tax credit expansion with non-profit leaders and recipients in Las Vegas, on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. (Jannelle Calderon/The Nevada Independent)

The Build Back Better domestic spending bill championed by President Joe Biden would continue those monthly payments to families through 2022 and make the child tax credit permanently refundable, meaning individuals who do not file a tax return because of their low income could still receive the monthly payments. The legislation passed the U.S. House earlier this month and is now pending in the Senate.

Adeyemo said one of key things to improve in the tax filing process is better communication including clearing up any questions of eligibility for the tax credit.

“There are still families who should be getting up to $400 a month per child, some of them who, for whatever reason, they don’t know — they may be unbanked, they may be immigrant families, they may be grandparents or other loved ones,” Horsford told The Nevada Independent.

The tax credit is projected to cut child poverty in half. All working families are eligible for the full credit if they make an annual income of $75,000 or less for single filers, $112,500 or less for heads of household or $150,000 or less for married couples filing a joint return or qualified widows and widowers.

“To those who are not sure if they qualify for the tax credit, please just ask,” Perez said. “Whether you’re a grandparent or uncle like myself, any type of relative or person taking care of a child or children … You probably qualify.”