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Romney’s child benefit proposal gaining diverse fans

His Family Security Act would provide monthly payments to families, with income caps and simplify family supports including some tax credits.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, pauses to answer questions from reporters as senators arrive to vote on President Joe Biden’s nominee for United Nation’s ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, at the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021.
J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

Sen. Mitt Romney’s child benefit proposal is garnering support from diverse sources.

Early this month, Utah’s junior senator, a Republican, unveiled a plan to send families a monthly check for $350 for preschool age children and $250 for those of school age. As the Deseret News reported, his proposed Family Security Act would consolidate a number of complex programs to provide the cash benefit at a deficit-neutral cost.

The New York Times editorial board on Tuesday recommended that Biden’s one-year proposal to help families struggling economically in America “borrow a few pages” from the Romney proposal. The editorial board likes that Romney’s proposal is meant to be a permanent reconfiguration of policies that are designed to tackle child poverty and aid struggling families, among other features. One selling point, the board notes, is that the benefit would be administered through monthly checks distributed by the Social Security Administration, rather than rely on the Internal Revenue Service and the tax code to provide assistance to families.

America would not be breaking new ground in terms of a child benefit. “The average developed nation provides single parents with direct aid equal to about 14% of median income, and two-parent households with aid equal to about 5% of median income, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,” said the New York Times editorial.

“The United States sits at the bottom of that table. Only Turkey provides less aid to families,” the newspaper added.

In announcing his plan, Romney noted that the change is overdue. “We have not comprehensively reformed our family support system in nearly three decades, and our changing economy has left millions of families behind,” he said in a written statement. “Now is the time to renew our commitment to families to help them meet the challenges they face as they take on (the) most important work any of us will ever do — raising our society’s children.”

He also said the measure could address concerns raised because marriage and birth rates are at an all-time low. If families had more resources, those that would like to have more children might be more confident to do so.

Both of those are aspects that Lyman Stone, a scholar at the Institute for Family Studies, finds appealing. He told the Deseret News that while he might tweak some of the details of the plan if he were designing it, Romney’s proposal provides solid help to families. And he worries that when women can’t have the number of children that they desire, they miss out. And so does society more generally, as there are ramifications to the shrinking birth rate, including potential negative impacts like a smaller work force that could be hard-pressed to provide what’s needed for a bustling economy or a sound social safety net.

The Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University said the American Family Act, the Democrat proposal supported by the Biden administration to provide families with similar support, though for one year, would nearly halve child poverty in America. Romney’s plan is intended to be a permanent reworking of existing benefits, so is expected to have a more permanent impact on child poverty. But Democrats have suggested they hope tailoring their proposal to a single year would get it passed, then popular support would lead to making it more permanent.

Here’s a sampling of media reaction to Romney’s proposal:

  • “A bold plan” that would “meaningfully reduce child poverty,” is the description by Melissa S. Kearney, economics professor at University of Maryland, and Diane W. Schanzenbach, professor of social policy and director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, in an op-ed for The Hill. They noted the poverty line for a mom and two kids is just $20,598 a year.

Among “key advantages” they see are replacing complicated tax credits while maintaining the earned income tax credit’s pro-work feature. They warn “a work-based safety net is not well-designed to buffer families during recessions and it essentially punishes children whose parents can’t find work,” two features not found in Romney’s proposal.

On the negative side, they said, Romney’s plan would make some unmarried working mothers worse off and they oppose his idea of taking $3 billion from food stamps.

  • “Romney’s idea may sound like a blessing to parents of children age 17 and younger. Now, here’s the rub. He wants to pay for his proposal by eliminating three popular tax breaks. First, he would get rid of the head-of-household filing status so that a single parent with children would have to file a single return with less favorable tax brackets,” writes Kiplinger’s Joy Taylor.

She notes that parents would also lose out on part of a tax credit for child care costs for kids under 13, as well as deductibility of state and local taxes in the federal tax code.

  • “Romney has thrown down a gauntlet not just in proposing a major new policy to address child poverty, but in proposing a way to dramatically simplify the welfare state. Democrats would be missing a major opportunity if they were to reject Romney’s simplification measures because his overall plan isn’t generous enough for their taste,” wrote Vox’s Dylan Matthews.
  • Joya Misra, a professor of sociology and public policy at University of Massachusetts Amhert wrote in The Conversation that Richard Nixon, “who embraced cultural conservatism,” made a similar proposal in 1969 to help with child-rearing costs.