Meghan Hullinger is a single mother with four children living in West Virginia, and the monthly payments parents received from the government from July to December were a lifeline for her family.
Thinking back to the first payment in July, Hullinger told Insider that "it was just the relief of knowing" that she wouldn't have to "play the bill lottery."
"It was basically, I had just enough to pay all of my bills and have a decent sitter that I trusted to watch my kids so I could work," Hullinger said. "It was the absolute relief of having enough."
But that relief Hullinger and others have felt from receiving the payments has evaporated. Parents who were getting used to receiving monthly checks from the federal government won't see any fresh deposits for the time being, and it could make it harder to pay bills and support their families.
Since July, households had received up to $300 per child each month under the expanded child tax credit passed last year as part of the government's response to the ongoing pandemic. The last payment before the program was set to expire was sent on December 15 to over 36 million families, the IRS said.
Democrats don't have a clear shot at reviving it anytime soon. They sought to extend it for another year as part of their $2 trillion Build Back Better plan. But it's languishing in the Senate because of opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia — Hullinger's home state — who wants to add a work requirement to the benefit.
The advance monthly payments have helped households in a variety of ways. It has helped some make their mortgage payments or pay for rent, food, school supplies, or other school expenses. Some have put it away in savings or used it to pay down debt.
Insider spoke with two moms who are also MomsRising members. The two moms had relied on the child-tax-credit payments and were now worried about what comes next.
Without another monthly payment, one mom said she was "a little bit terrified."
"The monthly payment is significantly more helpful for everyday people who kind of are living paycheck to paycheck and really have to figure stuff out," said Stacy Niemann, a mother of two who received payments of $550 per month.
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, a cofounder and the executive director and CEO of MomsRising, called the expanded child tax credit transformational for families. She said it helped lift children out of poverty and helped working parents afford care, which kept them in their jobs.
Rowe-Finkbeiner said the expanded child tax credit benefited not only the millions of families receiving the payments but also the US economy.
"We can't forget that parents, and moms in particular, are the primary people making consumer purchasing decisions in our consumer-fueled economy," she added.
Hullinger said the monthly payments helped her in multiple ways. For one, knowing that the payments would start in July, she was able to get a used car in May that she said was much safer than the one she already had.
The expanded tax credit also helped her keep working. With the pandemic still raging, Hullinger and her family have faced multiple school closures and quarantines. She said that without the payments, such disruptions would have meant taking time off work. Instead, she was able to get a sitter.
Hullinger said the last advance monthly payment was a godsend as she was able to buy kerosene to heat her apartment and also get Christmas gifts for her four children.
Niemann's experience with the monthly payments differed from Hullinger's. She said her husband's income was the family's primary income.
"But with my husband being self-employed, our income is variable and kind of unpredictable," Niemann said. "So that's the biggest thing that the child tax credit has helped us with — to know that every month, for sure, we have at least one bill that's going to be paid by getting the child tax credit."
Trying to maintain a small business amid the pandemic has been hard for Niemann and her husband. She said they lost a lot of business. She and her husband also both needed surgery and were now paying thousands of dollars in medical debt.
She said the monthly payments helped them "in some months to be able to just be a little bit more comfortable."
In particular, the monthly disbursements helped with their mortgage payments.
"That's honestly been huge to just know that we're not going to lose our house," Niemann said.
She added that she was able to use the money on fun activities for her two children, such as buying pumpkins or a Christmas tree.
"None of us are going on extravagant vacations and living our best lives on this money," Hullinger said. "A lot of times it gives us just enough to where we can sleep at night."
Other parents spoke with Insider's Erin Snodgrass about what the end of the payments meant for their families.
"Without these payments, I won't eat so my kids can," one parent told Snodgrass.
Congressional Democrats want to extend the program for another year through their social- and climate-policy bill. But resistance from Manchin means they can't muscle it through the Senate and sidestep Republicans anytime soon. The Biden administration has floated retroactive payments for eligible families if the plan clears the 50-50 Senate.
"The temporary child-tax-credit expansion that we have had in place for the past several months is proof of concept that a permanent child-tax-credit expansion is needed into the future in our nation," Rowe-Finkbeiner told Insider in December.
Put simply, Rowe-Finkbeiner said the expanded child tax credit "definitely must continue," and Niemann called it "really just a huge help."