Monthly payouts of half of the federal Child Tax Credit from July through December 2021 provided some New Jersey families not with a nice chunk of change, but rather essential cash to get food on the table, according to a report from the Rutgers Center for Women and Work in collaboration with the New Jersey State Policy Lab.

Co-author and postdoctoral researcher Sarah Small said the report analyzed data from Census Bureau surveys to find that more than a third (34%) used the federal money for food, 17% used it on clothing, and 25% of parents with children under 5 spent at least part on child care.

Small said the necessity of the advance payments came into sharp focus when looking at low-income families.

"We looked at, for instance, households who make less than $50,000 in New Jersey, and found that they were even more likely to have spent the Child Tax Credit payments on food, on utilities, on clothing, and on rent," she said. "Very few people spent them on recreation or charitable donations or more frivolous things. They were spent on a lot of essentials."

Exacerbating the issue, Rutgers said, was that even though nearly every parent in New Jersey was eligible, a far smaller number were taking advantage of the monthly payment.

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"We found only about 55% of eligible households did actually receive it, and that was even worse among low-income households. A lot of low-income folks just did not get these Child Tax Credit payments in advance," Small said.

To her point: The percentage dropped to 41% among households making less than $25,000.

The Rutgers study suggested that discrepancy could be due to underreporting, or some families opting to take the lump sum in 2022, but Small pointed to a different reason.

She said low-income families just may not have been aware of the advance payments, or alternately may not have filed taxes in 2021, which would have classified their eligibility.

"We're really trying to encourage folks to file their taxes," Small said. "There's a lot of free tax prep assistance in the state of New Jersey."

New Jersey Citizen Action and the United Way of Northern New Jersey are among the organizations Rutgers suggests for free tax preparation. The IRS also maintains a listing of such sites, searchable by zip code.

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