The federal government would pay most parents of young children $350 per child every month under a groundbreaking new proposal from Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) that would put a serious dent in child poverty.
Parents would get $350 for each child younger than 6 and $250 for kids between 6 and 17 under Romney’s Family Security Act, which he unveiled Thursday as Democrats prepare to pass a big pandemic relief bill in the coming weeks.
“American families are facing greater financial strain, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, and marriage and birth rates are at an all-time low,” Romney said in a release.
“On top of that, we have not comprehensively reformed our family support system in nearly three decades, and our changing economy has left millions of families behind,” Romney said. “Now is the time to renew our commitment to families to help them meet the challenges they face as they take on most important work any of us will ever do—raising our society’s children.”
Romney’s proposal closely resembles a Democratic plan to boost the child tax credit as part of the party’s coronavirus legislation. The tax credit changes have received less attention than an extension of unemployment benefits, vaccine distribution funds and one-time payments of $1,400 for most Americans.
But social policy experts are watching the child credit changes closely. The U.S. is one of the only developed countries that doesn’t pay parents a child benefit or child allowance. Romney’s proposal shows there is bipartisan support for the policy.
Democrats want to raise the maximum value of the child tax credit from $2,000 to $3,600, make it “fully refundable” so that poorer parents qualify, and have the Internal Revenue Service distribute the payments in advance, on a monthly basis ― essentially reverse-engineering a child allowance through the tax code.
Romney’s Family Security Act is bolder. It would pay benefits through the Social Security Administration instead of the Internal Revenue Service, which has less experience with monthly payments. The new payments would replace several tax benefits, including the child tax credit and the deduction for state and local taxes, as well as the entire Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program ― all likely nonstarters for Democrats.
Monthly payments would be available to expecting parents four months before their kids are born. Benefits would be capped at $1,250 per month and couples with combined incomes above $400,000 would get less. Something like 90% of households with children would qualify.
Both Romney’s and the Democratic proposals would slash child poverty. An analysis by the Niskanen Center, a moderate think tank that has helped Democrats develop their tax credit ideas and that helped Romney with his, said Romney’s proposal would reduce child poverty by nearly a third, while Biden’s would reduce it by 39%. If Congress adopted Romney’s idea without the offsetting cuts to other programs, it would reduce child poverty by 40%.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees tax policy and also Social Security, called Romney’s ideas encouraging.
“While I would not support diverting funds from other poverty-fighting programs to offset the cost, I look forward to working with Senator Romney to make a monthly child benefit a reality,” Wyden said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to comment during a press briefing Thursday, saying the White House hadn’t analyzed Romney’s proposal.
Romney’s aides described his proposal as more of an effort to encourage child-rearing than to cut poverty. Utah has one of the higher fertility rates among states, and Romney himself has five kids.
“We simply think this is about making a national commitment to America’s families,” an aide said.
Romney has no cosponsors for his idea but intends for the proposal to jump-start the conversation about family benefits, and his aides said the senator hoped Democrats would consider incorporating his idea in their forthcoming coronavirus relief bill. Support for new family assistance has been building among lawmakers for years.
The Family Security Act represents a huge change for Romney himself. In the 2012 presidential election, he bogusly criticized President Barack Obama for supposedly “gutting” the work requirements of the TANF program, which is the federal government’s main source of cash assistance for parents who aren’t disabled.
“Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job,” Romney’s 2012 campaign ads said. “They just send you your welfare check.”
Now Romney is proposing replacing TANF altogether with no-strings-attached benefits. He’ll just send you your check.