Should pregnant women get a child tax credit before their baby is born?
Republican senators and representatives, including Utah’s Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, have signed on to ‘The Child Tax Credit for Pregnant Moms Act of 2022’
If a group of Republican lawmakers gets their way, pregnant women will be able to claim the child tax credit for children who haven’t yet been born.
The effort, led by Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and several of his colleagues, aims to help expectant parents with the cost of carrying a baby and preparing for expenses related to birth and raising a child.
“Expecting parents begin providing and preparing for their child the minute they learn they’re having a baby — the child tax credit should reflect the fact that unborn children are children too. From prenatal care to stocking up on baby supplies, this tax relief will help parents prepare for the arrival of their baby,” said Daines in a news release Monday.
The Child Tax Credit for Pregnant Moms Act adds onto the existing child tax credit. It would allow a taxpayer to claim the credit in the year before the birth if a social security number has been issued at tax time or to claim the credit for “the taxable year in which such child is miscarried or stillborn.”
The latter situation requires an identification number from a certificate of miscarriage or stillbirth to be provided. If the pregnancy was intentionally terminated, it would not qualify for the tax credit. There’s a carve-out for pregnancy that imperils the mother’s life, like ectopic pregnancy, as long as an effort is made to save both mother and child.
The bill includes a provision that would allow some families to receive a double credit if their child was conceived and born in the same year. The theory is that pregnancy timing could give a woman two credits if the child is conceived in one year and born in another, so providing two credits in the same year when the entire pregnancy takes place in that year makes the benefit equal.
Daines has twice before submitted this bill, which previously failed to gain traction. Lots of Republican co-sponsors have signed on, including Ben Sasse, R-Neb.; Mitt Romney, R-Utah; Mike Lee, R-Utah, Tim Scott, R-S.C.; Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Mass.; Josh Hawley, R-Mo.; and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Reps. Jason Smith, R-Mo., and Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., are sponsoring the House version of the bill.
In a slew of press releases, the co-sponsors hailed the proposal as a way to help families with not just the costs of raising a child, but also the costs of getting ready for a child’s arrival.
“With one of the highest birth rates in the country, my home state of Utah has a lot of families who know that financial pressures don’t wait for a new baby to arrive,” Romney said in his written statement. “I’m proud to support this effort to allow pregnant moms to claim the Child Tax Credit for their unborn children, which will help alleviate some of the costs for families through pregnancy and in the first months of their child’s life.”
Who will it help?
The bill’s proposed changes would apply to the child tax credit that was on the books before the COVID-19 pandemic, not the temporary, expanded version that helped families and was partially delivered monthly as part of pandemic relief. The relief version was bigger and it was also refundable, which meant that very low-income people who didn’t earn enough income to qualify for the credit could claim it by filing a tax form. That expansion ended Dec. 31.
Daines’ bill would require households claiming the pregnancy benefit to have the existing credit’s level of earned income.
Some experts told the Deseret News that unless such a credit is refundable, it will leave out the neediest families. But they are happy to see at least some could be helped with the cost of preparing for and raising children.
“Research shows how important the earliest years of life are for children, including in utero. This recognizes the importance of supporting children during that time. It also helps with a timing issue. The child tax credit comes at tax time, so many families who have a new baby might not receive it for many months after the birth. This allows them to receive the child tax credit in the pregnancy year,” said Angela Rachidi, a poverty scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Medical care and prenatal health are expensive — especially for “the many who fall in the ‘hole’ of earning too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford their medical bills,” said Arielle Kuperberg, associate professor of sociology and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at University of North Carolina Greensboro.
She believes the credit would help some who really need it — including potentially women who don’t have paid parental leave and want to use the Family Medical Leave Act after the baby’s born but can’t otherwise afford that.
“Also, pregnant women have costs in terms of additional food and vitamins needed, transportation to doctors’ offices and all the costs of preparing a household for a new baby,” Kuperberg said, noting there are also medical costs associated with miscarriage, stillbirth and if medical crisis requires a woman to terminate the pregnancy.
Others say the bill isn’t really about helping struggling families; rather, the proposal is about curbing abortion.
“Really this is a pro-life exercise. The goal is to codify in federal law that preborn children get the same tax treatment as born children. This makes it easier to claim that fetal life has rights similar to those accorded to born children. Look at how many of these statements put some kind of pro-life spin on the bill,” said Jennifer Glass of the University of Texas at Austin and executive director of the Council on Contemporary Families.
She added, “I don’t think this is really designed to help families with children. Clearly the expenses of pregnancy are nowhere near the expenses of a newborn baby. Fetuses neither need car seats nor diapers, formula, breast pumps, cribs, well-baby checkups, etc. And pregnant women (but not mothers afterward) are already eligible for Medicaid and prenatal care.”
Lee called the bill a “societal statement recognizing the value that children and parents bring to our country and parenthood begins long before birth.”
“This bill will help protect life, support parents and reduce the number of children born into poverty,” he said.
Help ripples out
Research suggests that offering financial support to families who have infants and young children at home helps those children long term — and has benefits for society and the economy, too.
A meta-analysis in the United Kingdom that looked primarily at U.S. studies found increasing income in poor households created children’s brain development that “appears roughly comparable with that of spending similar amounts on school or early education programmes. Increasing household income,” the researchers wrote, “could substantially reduce differences in schooling outcomes.”
Time reported on a new study by Columbia University published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that showed reducing poverty boosts brain development: “Brain measurements at age 1 showed faster activity in key brain regions in infants whose low-income families received $300-plus monthly for a year, compared with those who got $20 each month, U.S. researchers reported Monday.”
“Researchers are still trying to determine why the money altered brain development. It could have purchased better food or health care; reduced damaging levels of parental stress; or allowed mothers to work less and spend more time with their infants,” The New York Times said of that study.
Experts said once the children in the study are old enough for cognitive tests, the impact on brain development may be clearer.
Rachidi, the American Enterprise Institute poverty scholar, had a different interpretation of the findings. She told The New York Times the brain development study showed infant bonding really matters. If the findings hold, “they could lend support for policies that help mothers spend more time with their newborns, including paid leave,” the article said. Rachidi said cash aid should be “targeted to those with low incomes, time-limited, and not erode work incentives in the long term.”
Meanwhile, analysis for The Brookings Institution on the study quoted the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development policy report finding that the “United States has among the worst child poverty rates in the industrialized world. The data released this week and in the past month demonstrate conclusively that relatively minor investments in families and teachers can impact children’s growth trajectory. It is a small price to pay for a stronger future.”
While she’s in favor of providing extra money to parents of infants and young children, Stephanie Coontz, director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families and a professor emerita at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, said she worries about tax credits.
“Those often don’t get money to families who need help most and they also often don’t get things immediately to needy parents,” she said.
But Coontz sees another benefit to the proposed bill that the sponsors are apt to find appealing.
“When impoverished single mothers receive increases in income, they are far less likely to move in with male partners who are not the father of their children, reducing the incidence of relationships that tend to be especially unstable and often risky for the child,” she said.