There are few realities more heartbreaking than a child living in poverty.

Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis spent her growing up years as a poor kid in Rhode Island recalling, “We had shoddy plumbing and no phone and no food and rats and all of that.” And like the more than a half million children in Massachusetts who don’t have enough to eat, the successful actress talked about the gnawing feeling of hunger in a 2017 interview with the digital media website, Refinery29. Davis remembered, “Most of the time the school lunch was the only meal I had. I would befriend kids whose mothers cooked three meals a day and go to their homes when I could.”

One in six children in the U.S. live in poverty, with higher numbers for children of color. According to the Children’s Defense Fund which advocates for children’s health and safety, children are the poorest of any age group in the country. Yet the majority of poor children live with a family member who works. Worse, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed more low-income children and their families far below the poverty line exacerbating an already critical situation.

You may not care that poverty takes a long-term toll on individual kids and families, but you should understand it also drags down the overall American economy. The Children’s Defense Fund explains that early poverty stunts children’s development leading them to fall behind academically, drop out of school thereby limiting job opportunities — a combination of factors which can push them into criminal activity.

Social service agencies have long used a variety of government assistance programs to help poor kids and their families with food and housing subsidies and a national school lunch program which continues to feed kids like a young Viola Davis. These programs are a lifeline to financially fragile families, allowing them to manage the harsh everyday challenges of being poor without going under. Sadly, even taken together they are not enough to lift most poor families out of poverty.

But this week marks the start of the expanded child tax credit, a new policy which could make that happen. On Thursday, the IRS will begin paying out checks from Congressionally approved monies in the American Rescue Plan. 88 percent of families with children will automatically get the cash benefit, which translates into $2,000-$3,000 for each child aged 6-17, and up to $3,600 for each kid under 6. Poor families will receive a direct monthly payment, including those who earn the lowest wages, and those who don’t file income taxes.

Organizations that assist with low-income people, the homeless and community nonprofits are working hard to ensure that the designated money gets to the right people. It won’t be easy, attorney Jennifer Burdick told the, an independent nonprofit news organization. Burdick, who works at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, points out, “This will be life changing for a lot of my clients — absolutely life changing, However, eligibility does not equal access.”

Most analysts agree the expansion of the child tax credit has the potential to slash the amount of child poverty in half; 50 percent of all poor children would escape poverty’s grasp. President Joe Biden and others would like to see the expanded child tax credit as a permanent policy. But, for now this short window of relief is over at the end of December.

And I worry it will end just as the extra money is making a significant difference for many families and children. “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children,” said Nelson Mandela the former President of South Africa.

I think we have a long way to go before our communal soul’s revelation is one that we all can embrace.