SALT LAKE CITY — Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who describes himself as center left, includes caregiving in different forms as a centerpiece of his family-related policy proposals and promises in his run for the presidency.

Caregiving challenges have taken center stage recently as parents, employers and policymakers grapple with getting adults back to work after pandemic-induced shutdowns. 

Child care is a major focus in Biden’s announced proposals, but it’s not the only issue under the care umbrella. The mix he touts is cradle to grave, with aid to help struggling families juggle responsibilities to care for both babies and frail older adults, time off from work to manage needs and improved access and subsidies for child care.

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The price tag for his plan is $775 billion over 10 years.

He’s also expected to try to focus on social safety net programs that benefit people who are poor, disabled or elderly.

While experts say caregiving is a crisis that was simmering in many American homes already, it boiled into view during the pandemic.

Biden-Harris family policy proposals

Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden has talked about his policy priorities related to families and released a number of position papers, too. Here are some highlights on policy impacting family:

  • Biden supports universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year olds. 
  • He has proposed $775 billion over 10 years for child care and elder care.
  • He supports Roe v. Wade and would like to repeal the Hyde Amendment ban on using federal funds for abortion.
  • Biden wants to tackle housing programs’ waiting lists
  • He supports student loan forgiveness up to $10,000. 
  • He also supports the “Dreamers” programs and a pathway to citizenship for children raised in America without legal status.

The Deseret News looked at the Biden campaign’s proposals — his campaign has published an extensive policy guide — his history of support or opposition to family-related programs and legislation, and interviewed experts to piece together what family policy might look like if he and vice president hopeful Kamala Harris win in November. 

Family policy is central to Biden’s announced agenda, from restoring and expanding the Affordable Care Act to providing tax breaks to families that care for their frail older relatives themselves. His vision includes free universal pre-kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds, limited student loan debt forgiveness for college students and a pledge to protect Social Security and Medicare.

“A Biden administration promises an ambitious family policy agenda,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a University of Virginia sociologist and director of The National Marriage Project, who is also an Institute for Family Studies scholar. “Their intentions seem good and they recognize that working families need help today. But many of their policies would push us in a direction that devalues the work of caring for young children in the home in favor of a vision that privileges the role of the state and the market when it comes to caring for kids.”

Caring for the family

Paid family leave and child care are among issues embraced by both incumbent Republican President Donald Trump and Biden. But their views on how those issues should be addressed and funded, as well as what the policies should contain are quite different. The Republicans have typically been in favor of a decentralized approach that would cede more control to states that receive federal money to help individuals, while the Democrats more often call for programming funded and designed by the federal government.

Not surprisingly, support or opposition depends on one’s affinity for one approach or the other.

Taryn Morrissey, author of “Cradle to Kindergarten” and an associate professor of public administration and policy at American University, believes that based on their previous positions, a Biden/Harris administration could move the needle for families who are caregivers, both at the beginning of life, end of life or among families caring for those with disabilities.

“It marries those two issues, which have similar structures in terms of being so expensive for families you know, and there’s the squeeze generation who are trying to take care of their kids and facing aging parents,” she said. “The parents of young kids in particular are at the lowest earning years of their lives and they’re faced with these expenses with childcare costing more than college tuition to public universities — and yet you don’ t have Pell grants and you don’t have loans.“

The plan that Biden recently unveiled targets working Americans who need help with child care and access to paid family leave, but he’s also included funding to boost the salaries and increase the supply of child care providers.

Biden and Harris have supported paid parental leave for both fathers and mothers, though Biden has favored capping such leave at 12 weeks. Before she dropped her run for president, Harris leaned toward a more generous leave plan of up to six months, more akin to European family policy, said Shawn Fremstad, senior fellow at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.

Biden’s care proposal also directs some funding to shorten the wait for home and community health services that are provided through Medicaid. Some people wait for years for those services, according to Biden’s campaign material.

Federal employees have already been granted paid parental leave — with a few exceptions, such as postal workers —  starting Oct. 1, a law that passed this year and was signed by Trump. But there’s no federal paid family leave policy for others, though some states have created their own plans.

Although there’s broad support by experts and policy makers who see paid leave as a big help to families, getting it paid for has been contentious. Universal leave proposals come with a hefty price tag and little agreement on how to fund them, said Daniel L. Carlson, a sociologist and associate professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah.

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Besides worrying about the cost of Biden’s care proposals, some also worry it could erode ties — and time together — that’s important between parent and child.

Wilcox believes Biden’s vision for increasing access to child care and lowering its cost for low-income families by using tax credits and subsidies could have unwelcome consequences. “This is a vision where young children spend more time in daycare and where parents who wish to care for their children at home receive no support from the government. This is both unfair and, more importantly, unwise as young children benefit from more time with their parents and kin, rather than less.”

Biden’s plan would expand subsidies up the income ladder and increase caregiver wages, which would help family finances, said Morrissey, She’s a proponent of universal preschool as a way to reduce income disparity and get kids ready for school. 

The social safety net

Among programs Biden would like to restore or expand are Medicaid, nutrition assistance including food stamps and programs for older Americans like Social Security and Medicare.

Some tax credits for low-income families could be made refundable, meaning if eligible people didn’t make enough to pay taxes, they’d get the money anyway, instead of having to be able to deduct it from their taxes. 

“There’s clearly a difference in what you hope to do and what you can get done,” said  Bradley Hardy, an associate professor and chairman of public administration and policy at the American University, who’s also a nonresident scholar in economics at Brookings Institution. Congress ultimately funds — or doesn’t — programs.

But he noted the family policy positions for Trump and Biden “clearly diverge.”

The president has repeatedly slashed the budget for federal housing programs under the Department of Housing and Urban Development, proposing a $9.6 billion decrease in 2019. Hardy said Biden and Harris are talking about ensuring whoever qualifies for housing benefits receives them. The waiting list is long for the housing program. Some people are wait-listed for up to a decade and low-income people in some communities pay up to half their income for a place to live. Hardy said research found that before the pandemic, almost half of Black households were paying a large portion of their income on housing.

“How can you get ahead?” he asked.

Whoever wins the election will face a very different world than when the presidential campaigns started, said Angela Hanks, deputy executive director of Groundwork Collaborative, a progressive think tank. The pandemic is ongoing. And where some experts before complained of stagnant wages dragging on the economy, the issue right now is too many families with no wages or reduced wages because of pandemic-related unemployment.

Hanks said it’s important for whoever is elected to address the problems that people are facing at this moment, but she knows it will take deep and expensive investment. How much the pandemic has thrown families into economic chaos “says more about the structure of the economy than it does about the crisis,” she said.

Policy positions

Among Biden’s other family policy proposals:

Education: Besides universal preschool, Biden’s education proposals include increasing Title I school funding, student loan debt forgiveness up to $10,000, more no-tuition college options for students in families with incomes up to $125,000, and no-tuition community college for all students, including “dreamers” in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program.The BBC reported that the package would be paid for by repealing the Trump-era tax cuts.

Mental health: Biden has also shown interest in expanding mental health services for kids, said Hanks. He told the nonpartisan Mental Health for US education coalition that he would try to ensure veterans in crisis had immediate access to services, that parity rules were enforced and that community-based mental health programs need to be expanded.

Social Security: Biden’s plan for Social Security includes what he calls a “true minimum benefit” that’s at least 125% of the poverty level if someone has worked 30 years or more, which would help some of the lowest-wage earners. To help those in danger of running out of their retirement funds, the oldest recipients could receive an enhanced benefit to keep them out of poverty.

Immigration: Biden said he will protect DACA “dreamers,” who were brought to the United States as children by parents who lacked legal status to be here.

He also plans to reverse some of the Trump administration’s immigrations policies, including separating would-be immigrant parents and children at the border, a process that has caused controversy even within the president’s party. He notes that the U.S., like other countries, has a “right and duty” to secure its borders and “protect our people against threats,” but opposes the current administration’s policy.

His position on immigration includes prioritizing managing migration through refugee resettlement and other programs, before people ever embark on a journey to the United States, when possible. 

Older Americans: Besides bolstering care for frail seniors, Biden indicates he’ll try to shield the elderly from high prescription costs by expanding use of generics and allowing them to buy medications from outside of the United States, as long as the drugs are certified by the U.S. government as safe. He also said he’ll tackle age discrimination and make older workers eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, like their younger counterparts.

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To preserve Social Security funding, he plans to ask those “with especially high wages to pay the same tax on those earnings that middle-class families pay.” 

Health care: Biden’s policy task force recommended lowering the age for Medicare from 65 to 60. The BBC reported that the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan group, estimates that the total Biden plan, including creating a public insurance option for all ages similar to Medicare and lowering Medicare’s age to 60 would cost $2.25 trillion over 10 years.

Biden would also allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with drug manufacturers, which is now banned.

Abortion: Biden favors Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to have an abortion. He supports repealing the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save the pregnant woman’s life. He has also said he’ll restore Planned Parenthood’s eligibility for federal funding.

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