Put Working Families at the Front of the Line for Help

| Mar 02, 2021

Senator Mitt Romney has set off a vital policy debate with his Family Security Act, an innovative and well-designed proposal that would pay a monthly benefit to most American households for each of its children, beginning during pregnancy. Payments depend on a child’s age, so a family with a 4-year-old and a 7-year-old, say, would receive $7,200 annually.

The proposal’s ambitious scale is appropriate to the enormous scale of the challenge. A recent survey by my organization, American Compass, highlights the economic pressure that families face: Only one-quarter of people 18-50 say they are living the American dream. Among everyone else, a majority say they have fewer children than they want, most often because they couldn’t afford to have more.

While public policy alone will not rescue the American family, an aggressive expansion of the nation’s social compact backed by a major financial commitment would shore up the economic and cultural foundations on which people build their lives.

The critical question is: Who should be eligible? Current federal policy provides a child tax credit of $2,000 per child, but it only cancels out taxes that you owe; a family with low earnings and little tax liability receives little benefit. Mr. Romney’s plan, and a one-year provision included by Democrats in the latest Covid relief package, solve this by making their benefits essentially universal so that a family with no earnings receives the full value.

That goes too far.

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Oren Cass is the executive director at American Compass.