VALLEY VIEW, Texas — The Zimmerer family is fully supportive of new tax relief efforts in Congress.
Jackie Zimmerer has been a stay-at-home mother to her four boys for the past seven years. As much as she would like to continue to remain at home, family finances related to her husband's company downsizing have made that impossible. In March, she took a part-time job.
A bill in Congress known as the Parents’ Tax Relief Act (PTRA) is designed to help families like the Zimmerers. The legislation was introduced June 23 by U.S. Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., and U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., with 12 Republican cosponsors. If enacted, proponents say it would help families care for their young children in the manner they best see fit.
“As a stay-at-home mom I have felt punished by the system,” said Zimmerer. “What I do for my family is not, according to the laws of the country, worthy of much of anything. With increasing costs I've had no choice but to return to work part-time when I would far rather be at home with my kids.”
The legislation is based upon ideas raised by family advocate Allan Carlson in his book Fractured Generations: Family Policy for the Twenty-First Century. Carlson is president of The Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, and international secretary of the World Congress of Families. He said the contents of the act grew out of a meeting he had with Terry's legislative aide, Caroline Baird, and representatives from the Family Research Council.
“Congressman Terry wanted to do something to help stay-at-home parents,” said Carlson. “We brought a parcel of ideas.” He described it as “the most important piece of pro-family legislation to be introduced in decades.”
“This legislation will end the long-standing inequity in the tax code that encourages day care above stay-at-home parenting,” Terry said, introducing the act. “This bill will also help families spend more time with their children by increasing family-friendly employment opportunities.”
For families, the act promises to:
“Make the dependent care tax credit currently available not just to those with children in day care, but to stay-at-home parent families.
“Make the $1,000 child tax credit permanent, and index it to inflation.
“ Eliminate the “marriage penalty” — a quirk in the tax code that results in some married couples paying more in taxes than they would if they were both single filers.
“ Increase the personal income tax exemption from $3,100 to $5,000.
“Provide stay-at-home parents with employment credits toward future Social Security benefits.
“Surveys consistently show that at least 70% of parents believe that having one parent at home with a child is best for preschool children,” said Terry. “An overwhelming 94% of parents believe a parent should be at home with children age 2 and under.”
“Taxes take a big bite out of the income for those in the middle class,” said Stephen Krason, president of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists and a professor of political science at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. “Anything that can help alleviate that burden would be beneficial for families.”
While most families would welcome the relief, some are a bit more cautious.
“I would probably take advantage of it, but I don't want the government involved in my decision,” said Cay Gibson, a stay-at-home mother of five from Sulphur, La. “We've never had government assistance.”
Krason mentioned that potential downside as well.
“One has to be cognizant that whatever advantages are established for the family, that they will not mean more government monitoring,” he said. He noted, however, that such monitoring does not usually occur with taxation.
Those familiar with the act said that it doesn't increase government monitoring, but merely changes information gathered on the tax form.
“This simply creates different check-offs on the IRS form,” said Larry Jacobs, spokesman for the Howard Center.
Carlson noted that the major criticisms of the legislation have concerned the reduction of government revenues.
“The tax base is so frail that some are saying we can't cut revenues anymore,” he said. “Those who have their own tax policy plans, or those who want a flat tax or consumption tax, don't want to deal with these kinds of issues.”
Still, Carlson added that the legislation has received support from an “interesting coalition,” including Focus on the Family, the National Association for the Self-Employed, and the National Federation of Independent Business.
The MicroEnterprise Journal praised the legislation as “full of lovely things for home-based microbusiness.”
“This is a Catholic idea. Catholic thinkers of the past have stressed that the family should be the center of the economy,” said Krason. “In the modern economy, the family got pushed to the margins.”
Though Carlson is not a Catholic, Krason recognizes his contribution to the legislation.
“Dr. Carlson's writing has tried to stress the idea that home is the center of work and family life,” said Krason. “That would tend to be promotive of good family life, without having one or two parents going elsewhere for large parts of the day. He's looking for ways to return to this.”
That's an idea that's been receiving more attention lately.
Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., tackles that subject in his book, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good.
“In far too many families with young children, both parents are working, when, if they really took an honest look at the budget, they might find they don't both need to,” Santorum writes.
While families like the Zimmerers and Gibsons would welcome the relief, it may be a long time coming. Typically, the amount of time that passes between the date an act is introduced and the date it is signed into law is seven years. By then, the Zimmerers’ and Gibsons’ children may be ineligible.
Still, Carlson is hopeful.
“This one has an attraction that gives it a real opportunity. It should find bipartisan support,” said Carlson. “I see no reason why centrist Democrats shouldn't love this bill.”
Tim Drake is based in St. Joseph, Minnesota.