Child Poverty Bills in Congress Address Endemic Crisis

Democracy Examined

In response to the long crisis of child poverty in America, on February 4th, Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) introduced the Family Security Act. This plan would give $4,200/year to each child until age 5 and $3,000/year until adulthood in the form of small, direct, monthly checks. Senator Romney’s plan would completely pay for itself by eliminating a combination of welfare programs and tax deductions (i.e., CTC, TANF, SALT, HoH, and SNAP).

Child poverty has long been a crisis in this country. Numbers cannot convey the silent suffering of our children, but at least 11 million American kids currently live in poverty.

Senator Romney’s announcement comes in addition to President Biden’s plan to fight child poverty, as put forth within his stimulus bill. The two approaches are similar, but President Biden’s plan is a one-off to address the crisis during the pandemic, while Senator Romney’s policy would presumably continue in perpetuity. Romney’s plan is more generous while completely paying for itself by replacing some welfare programs and tax deductions, whereas Biden’s plan comes in addition to these existing programs. 

1. How systemic of a problem is child poverty?

As we have written in a previous newsletter, America is in the midst of a horrific poverty crisis. A 2014 HUD report found 2.5 million American children are homeless. Between 7 million and 11 million kids do not have enough to eat. More than 40% of our children struggle to receive basic necessities. We do not have to accept this.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine estimate that child poverty costs America $1 trillion every year in “reduced adult productivity, increased costs of crime, and health expenditures” of growing up poor. The Romney and Biden plans would fight back by using tried and tested solutions already in place in much of the developed world. A similar child allowance policy reduced Canadian child poverty by at least 20 percent. In the United Kingdom, Tony Blair’s government used child allowances to eliminate more than 50 percent of all child poverty. A Columbia University analysis estimated that Biden’s plan alone would reduce child poverty in America by 51 percent.

2. Is this an opportunity for bipartisanship?

Perhaps. Both bills, especially Senator Romney’s, have earned plaudits from across the political spectrum. On the right, Yuval Levin (in National Review), Ramesh Ponnuru, and Ross Douthat have all praised the Romney bill’s support for families and its potential to make the tax code easier to understand for working-class Americans. The centrist Niskanen Center estimated that Romney’s plan would save one-third of all children currently living in poverty, and one-half of all children suffering in deep poverty.

On the left, Nicholas Kristof has repeatedly supported the child poverty component of Biden’s stimulus. The center-left Center for American Progress cautiously endorsed large sections of Romney’s proposal. Finally, the crowd-funded, democratic socialist People’s Policy Project carefully compared both proposals against an earlier white paper and urged Democrats to adopt the Romney plan.

Of course, the proposals also have their critics. Republican Senators Rubio and Lee immediately criticized the plan for “undercutting” a “pro-work” ethic. Per the Washington Post’s Jeff Stein, without support from those Senators, it is unclear whether any other Republicans will support the joint bills. The American Enterprise Institute’s (a free-market think tank) Poverty Studies scholar opposed Senator Romney’s plan as “misguided.” Liberals, on the other hand, will want to maintain welfare-assistance programs.

Nevertheless, at a time when Americans who disagree politically no longer seem to inhabit the same reality, perhaps a proposal to strengthen the American family and fight the crippling sin of child poverty can bring unity to a disunited nation.