Romney, Biden Child Plans Offer Major Pro-Family Boost for Catholics
Analysts say President Biden’s child tax credit proposal and Sen. Mitt Romney’s child allowance proposal both align with some of the Church’s social priorities, but with some key differences.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, have advanced competing child tax credit proposals that could be a real game-changer for working and middle-class families. According to experts, both plans could help lift millions of children out of poverty, encourage marriage and family formation, and save children from abortion.
“Programs like Romney’s and Biden’s could be helpful in stabilizing the financial foundation of working and middle class family life,” Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project and professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, told the Register.
Wilcox pointed to the new American Compass Survey, showing nearly half of Americans say they are not having the number of children they want. Low-income to middle-income Americans indicated the chief reason stopping them was “I don’t think I could afford to.” The survey also showed a majority of U.S. families are favorably inclined toward family support — particularly if it can help families have their ideal of one parent working while another parent is raising their children full time.
John Carr, co-director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University and a former adviser to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the Register the child benefit proposals reflect the Church’s belief that “the family is the central social institution” and have support from Americans across the political spectrum.
“At a time when our principles are often disregarded, this is Catholic social teaching in action,” he added, saying it “good news” Catholics have before them bipartisan proposals to support families in the U.S.
Biden is seeking to substantially expand the Child Tax Credit as part of his COVID-19 stimulus relief legislation that is now making its way through Congress. Biden’s child tax credit proposal would provide a fully refundable child tax credit with up to $3,600 for children up to 6 years old, or $3,000 for children up to age 17. The government would pay the amount monthly via the Internal Revenue Service through direct deposit, check or debit cards.
The plan is an improvement on the current child tax credit of $2,000 per child. In its current form, the child tax credit is only provided to families in a lump sum after filing income taxes. Given how it’s structured, low-income families tend to see far less benefits than high-income families.
Biden’s child tax credit plan, however, would expire after a year, and because it is deficit spending, the plan would require additional legislation to make permanent.
However, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, has put forward his own legislation for a child allowance that is more generous in many respects, with $4,200 for children up to 6 years old, and $3,000 for children up to 17 years old.
But Romney’s proposal, the Family Security Act, would be permanent and the monthly payouts would be handled by the Social Security Administration. And the funds could start flowing to families four months before a child is born.
Because Romney’s Family Security Act is deficit-neutral, by eliminating local and state deductions for taxes and some existing anti-poverty programs such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grants, it could pass with just 51 votes under the Senate’s budget reconciliation rules.
An analysis of U.S. census data by the Institute for Family Studies showed the U.S. marriage rate hit an all-time low in 2019, with only 33 getting married for every 1,000 unmarried adults in 2019, down from 86 getting married per 1,000 unmarried adults in 1970. The evidence also showed that while divorce rates had slowed, marriage was collapsing among working-class and low-income Americans.
Wilcox said the existing U.S. tax and social benefits structure penalizes marriage, which is key for forming children within stable families. He cited the example of one family he spoke with, where the couple chose to cohabitate rather than marry because they would lose Medicaid.
Both the Biden and Romney approaches, he explained, give married people overall more economic advantages than the current system, either for one parent to stay home and raise the children while the other parent provides, or for both parents to work and bring in more income as their family requires.
Wilcox explained Romney’s plan is more appealing, primarily since it is a simpler and more accessible process for families, does a better job at removing marriage penalties, provides families a monthly benefit they can budget in, and most of all, is permanent.
“It would give a good number of working families’ financial confidence when it comes to raising children today in America,” Wilcox said.
Empowering Families out of Poverty
According to an analysis by the Niskanen Center, a D.C.-based think tank named for one of Ronald Reagan’s economic advisers, the Romney child allowance plan and Biden child tax credit would lift nearly a third of U.S. children out of poverty, and half of U.S. children out of deep poverty.
Carr said that while the specific impacts of the proposals should be debated, both the Romney and Biden child benefit plans are “more generous, more accessible and more just” than the status quo with the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, which are not fully reaching the families that need support the most.
Carr said the proposals also give people “a floor, not a ceiling,” and do a good job avoiding the “benefits cliffs” built in current U.S. social programs, which can penalize people for working more or getting married as they try to escape poverty.
“They’re very much reflecting the principles of Catholic social teaching,” he said, particularly in respect to the dignity of human life and family, and support of the poor.
Carr explained the proposals could help assure families that they can put food on the table, make housing payments, or afford car payments for a bigger vehicle that would allow them room for a third or fourth child in a car seat.
And this form of assistance, he said, could also empower working and middle class families to consider sending a child to Catholic schools.
“This supports parental school-choice in another way,” he said.
Encouraging Openness to Life
The Biden and Romney child benefit plans could have a critical impact in encouraging families to have more children at a time when fertility rates are at record lows in the US.
The U.S. total fertility rate is hovering around 1.7 children per woman, far below the 2.1 total fertility rate needed for population replacement. And 2020 data indicated that the COVID-19 lockdowns have only increased the baby bust.
Lyman Stone, a research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told the Register that “the U.S. has one of the lowest spending rates on children in the developed world,” and the country’s fertility rate decline, he added, “is one of the steepest in the developed world.”
Stone explained that Romney’s plan is more generous per child, but Biden’s plan lacks the $15,000 cap and so for families with six or more children, “Biden’s plan could be more lucrative.”
Both child plans, he explained, are “pro-natal” and could have positive impact on the birthrate, and in that respect “Biden’s plan is likely to increase fertility more.” Romney’s plan, by comparison, is more generous to single-earner households and does a better job of eliminating marriage penalties. But the U.S. would have to enact more pro-family policy, such as paid family leave, housing, and education, to get the country back to replacement rate fertility.
Both the Biden and Romney child benefit plans, Stone noted, could be an effective tool in the pro-life movement’s efforts to build a culture of life. Despite the difference of sonograms and abortion restrictions, the downward trend of abortion is starting to stall, with the Charlotte Lozier Institute noting that abortion rates began ticking up slightly in 2017-2018.
Funding Children, Defunding Abortion
Stone agreed legislation banning abortion is the most effective way to reduce abortion “supply,” but said more has to be done to eliminate the “demand” side of abortion, which is strongly correlated with economic pressures.
The Guttmacher Institute, which carries out abortion industry research, found 75% of women seeking abortion were poor or low-income, and about six in 10 abortion-minded women already had a child. Economic fears drove the top reasons for abortion: the inability to afford an additional child, the loss of work or ability to continue in school, or the need to fulfill existing family responsibilities or care for dependents.
“Alleviating those financial concerns is going to reduce abortion,” Stone said.
Stone added research supports that child subsidy can have both a positive impact on fertility rates and reduce abortion as seen in Spain. And he explained that Romney’s plan even more critically helps the pro-life cause make the case for life, because, “it provides benefits while children are still in the womb.”
The Romney child allowance proposal has come under fire from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who panned it as “welfare assistance” and insisted that any expansion of the child tax credit should be tied to work.
However, Stone argued that Romney’s child allowance plan not likely to reduce the incentive to work except for one demographic: families where one parent wants to stay at home and raise their children while the other parent is the breadwinner. “Those are the people who are likely going to stay home for their kids,” he said.
Overall, he said, Romney’s plan “still is encouraging work and reduces income tax rates on middle income earners,” without tax hikes.
“Fewer Uber drivers and more parents at home parenting?” he said. “I don’t think that’s a loss for society.”
Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.