Biden Administration Floats Refundable Pet Tax Credit Idea to Boost Child Tax Credit

Last week, Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy nominee Lily Batchelder floated the latest in the Biden Administration’s efforts to provide tax relief to the nation’s millions of people suffering due to the pandemic: a $250 refundable tax credit for families with children under the age of 18 who have pets in their household.

President Biden with his dog, Major
Photo by Stephanie Gomez/Delaware Humane Association, via NY Times/Associated Press
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In speaking at the Tax Policy Center webinar entitled “Thinking Outside the Box Tax Policy Ideas”, Batchelder cited the overwhelming research showing that the presence of certain family pets has a strong correlation with positive outcomes in children, including health, education and lifetime earnings. (See, for example this recent research study by Robert Matchock, Pet Ownership and Physical Health)

Insisting that the Biden Administration will continue its evidence based approach to good governance, current Assistant Secretary Mark Mazur noted that evidence has tied positive outcomes to only certain pets-namely dogs and cats. As such, the Treasury officials expected that the legislative language they would support would not extend to other household friends. Mazur acknowledged that the research to date has not studied other animals nearly as much as dogs and cats although there is preliminary research showing that larger rodents (such as chinchillas) have had a positive impact on mental health across age ranges.

Facing questions about whether this might be expanded to older Americans, as the data strongly correlates pet ownership with positive health outcomes among seniors, Mazur was noncommittal, though he emphasized that the Administration’s focus in the near term was on improving conditions for families with children.

“It might be the camel’s nose in the tent,” said Mazur, “but for now we are tying this to our proposals to make permanent the expanded child tax credit that Congress enacted last month.”

Needless to say the proposal generated quite a stir in the webinar. Former NTA and current Executive Director of the Center for Taxpayer Rights Nina Olson asked if Treasury expected IRS to expand its nonfiler portal to allow nonfiling taxpayers to enter pet information alongside their children. Commissioner Rettig, also on the panel, in noting that he is the first Commissioner in IRS history to own not one but two adopted retired Greyhound racers, suggested that Congress should allocate an additional $100 million to its proposed upgrade of technology in order to allow it to build the pet database. 

Panelist and Tax Notes’ tax historian Joseph Thorndike noted that many of these pets may be the direct descendants of pets removed from being claimed as dependents in 1986 when Congress began requiring taxpayers to list the social security number of dependents which caused almost seven million dependents to disappear in one year.  He noted that the ancestors of today’s household pets would no doubt be smiling down as pets once again returned to the 1040.

While not on the panel, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who was slated to speak on a separate panel with former Commissioner Rossotti about the Rossotti/Sarin/Summers tax gap proposal, interrupted Batchelder, stating that the “last thing poor people need is more money in their pockets. I worry about the inflationary impact in the important pet sector.”

As with any proposed credit expansion, there are lots of ancillary issues. PT’s own Keith Fogg notes that “in the 1860s in the predecessor to Section 6334 Congress allowed as part of the property exempt from levy one cow, three pigs, five sheep and the wool thereon. Although that was changed to livestock in 1954 it’s good to see animals formally entering the code again.”

Click here for a link to a video of the webinar.