Before last year’s temporary expansion, about a third of American children – about 23 million children – lived in families that received less than the full amount of child support. (For example, before the expansion, a family with two children earning $20,000 a year would qualify for a child tax credit check of only $2,625, while a family earning $200,000 would receive all of the $4,000.) tax code to a monthly benefit of $300, with an additional $50 per month for children under 6, would be a tangible way to make life easier for low-income parents and the working class.
Last year, of course, the Biden administration extended the child tax credit to virtually all families, including those without workers. But as I explored for The Times last year, many working-class parents saw the idea of unconditional cash benefits going to families without workers as fundamentally unfair. Polls also suggest that child benefits unrelated to work are unpopular.
A conservative family-friendly economic agenda would incorporate the idea that work is an important part of engaging in society and caring for one’s family. This principle could be tied to the child tax credit in a way designed to be administratively clear and simple: to qualify for the monthly payments, families would have to meet an income threshold, such as the federal poverty level for a single person ($13,590 a year in 2022). Families with incomes below that threshold would see their benefits cut, allaying Tory concerns about perverse work incentives. (Parents who earned 50% of the threshold would, for example, see their monthly child allowance amount cut in half, but would continue to be eligible for safety net programs.)
This approach would create an easily understandable link between receiving child benefit and having at least one working parent and would be partly funded by bundling the tangle of existing child benefit, tax credit adjustments on earned income and child care deductions into a single monthly benefit. . It would recognize that families should not lose benefits for having additional children and would ensure that low-income couples are not penalized by marriage.
Beyond the tax code, congressional Republicans could play to their supply-side strengths and champion a cost-of-living program aimed at some of parents’ biggest headaches: health care, childcare, and more. children and housing. They could listen to Robert Orr of the center-right Niskanen Center and increase the number of health professionals while experimenting with increased cost sharing for maternal and child health care. They could expand childcare options by building the capacity of faith-based and community-based providers rather than relying on large-scale subsidies. And they could reduce the cost of housing by tackling environmental regulations and restrictive zoning laws that prevent housing supply from meeting demand.
This policy agenda will force Republicans to curtail their usual impulse to seek tax cuts as a panacea. But if put into practice, they can show how parents’ lives can be made easier by applying traditional conservative principles about work, incentives and regulation to contemporary issues, without requiring Build Back Better-style federal intervention.
A favorable ruling by Dobbs would certainly not transform the GOP into a European-style Christian Democratic party overnight. But some actions at the state level show signs of the party moving in a more pro-family direction while retaining its core principles. Texas’ clandestine abortion ban grabbed most of the headlines, but the state also passed a bipartisan expansion of Medicaid for mothers up to six months postpartum. Idaho and Oklahoma, with Republican-dominated legislatures, have introduced child tax credits at the state level, and politically divided Minnesota could become the 10th to do so, in negotiations current budgets.