Earlier this month, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-UT, joined by Sens. Steve Daines, R-MT, and Richard Burr, R-NC, introduced a proposal that would expand the federal child tax credit proposal for expecting mothers and their families. The bill is an updated version of one Romney submitted last year—the structure is the same, but a few important changes have made it much better.
Under the plan, the current $2,000-per-year child tax credit program would be eliminated and replaced by a $3,000-per-child benefit for families with children between the ages of 6 and 17, and a $4,200 benefit for each child under 6. The benefit would be doled out on a monthly basis—parents with young children could expect to receive $350 each month per child, and parents with school-aged children could expect to receive $250 each month per child—and would start phasing out for single parents earning $200,000 or more per year, and married couples earning more than $400,000 per year.
Unlike Romney’s original proposal, though, this updated version makes sure the benefit begins during pregnancy, four months before a baby’s due date. This change rightly recognizes the financial and physical toll a pregnancy can take on a mother, and not only offers her support but rewards her for choosing to have a family in spite of the many difficulties that can accompany this decision.
Romney also introduced a modest work requirement to his updated proposal. This new bill requires parents to show proof that they earned at least $10,000 in annual income the year prior to applying for the tax credit. Families making less than this amount would still receive a benefit, but one that is reduced in proportion to their earnings. This requirement incentivizes work and marriage, since it would be easier to meet the $10,000-per-year threshold with a dual income, but is still slight enough that a single parent making minimum wage should be able to meet it easily.
The finance mechanism of Romney’s updated proposal is the same as the original bill’s. It would gut the existing child tax credit and three other aid programs—the Child and Dependent Care Credit, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, and the “head of household” tax filing status—and change eligibility categories for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). And, most importantly, it would eliminate the state and local tax deduction, which effectively serves as a tax break for wealthy liberals living in high-tax blue states. This structure would ensure that Romney’s plan doesn’t add trillions of additional spending to the federal deficit—an important concern given our skyrocketing inflation rates.
However, despite the senators’ efforts to make sure the bill is fiscally responsible, there is still a concern that it would expand the scope of the welfare state in a way that would hurt more than help. After all, what’s to stop legislators in the future, especially those on the Democratic side who have been trying to establish a quasi-socialist system for years, from increasing the child tax credit’s monthly payments to an amount greater than what the bill’s current funding mechanism would cover? Unless there is some sort of check written into the bill to make sure its funding and scope remains limited, there will always be the potential for abuse.
Yet Romney’s bill is still a significant improvement that demands consideration from both Republicans and Democrats. It would “lift nearly three million children out of poverty while providing a bridge to the middle class,” according to an estimate from Romney’s office, and consolidate the bureaucratic nightmare that is our welfare system—all while rewarding and encouraging family formation. With a few additional changes, it could be exactly the program this country needs.