Though it got buried in an avalanche of more pressing news—Supreme Court decisions, mass shootings, the January 6 hearings, and more—the release of the “Family Security Act 2.0” by Sen. Mitt Romney, along with fellow Republicans Richard Burr and Steve Daines, might turn out to be one of the most significant occasions of 2022, at least as far as American social policy is concerned. As the American Enterprise Institute’s Yuval Levin and Scott Winship wrote in National Review, “the new proposal advances the two core goals shared by all on the right who have been engaged in this debate: support for Americans looking to build families and support for Americans looking to rise out of poverty.”
At this point, to be sure, it’s just a proposal—and Capitol Hill today offers few paths to passage, even for popular ideas. Yet, as Ramesh Ponnuru explains, the fact that the outline has attracted support from large parts of the GOP coalition means it could and should serve as the starting point for bipartisan negotiations for a new federal investment in families. Unlike the expanded child tax credit that was a cornerstone of President Biden’s short-lived American Rescue Plan—which pulled millions of children out of poverty for the year it existed—this policy just might stand the test of time.
Romney’s new plan would provide all but the wealthiest families with $350 per month per child under age six, $250 per month per school-age child, and $700 for each of the last four months of pregnancy. That adds up to real money; a family with two small children would be looking at an $8,400 annual supplement to their income. It also eliminates marriage penalties baked into existing anti-poverty programs, and maintains a work-requirement to ensure that the country doesn’t return to the state of affairs before welfare reform. It is also fiscally responsible, funding the new family benefits by consolidating or eliminating several existing federal programs and tax breaks, including the state and local tax deduction. All of this is laudable, but allow me to offer one big amendment: The proposal should go much further in front loading its support to families with the youngest children. Specifically, it should provide $700 per month per child 5 and under. That’s twice Romney’s offer. Lawmakers could make the math work by reducing support for older children to, say, $150 per child per month (instead of $250), and/or by phasing out benefits for upper middle class parents.
The reason to focus on families with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers should be obvious to anyone who’s been a parent: Those are the most financially challenging years, both because parents of young children tend to be younger themselves, and thus poorer, and because public support for young children is much lower than once kids hit kindergarten. Indeed, ask any middle class parent what it felt like when their son or daughter entered elementary school, and the payments for preschool or childcare stopped or dropped precipitously. It’s like getting a big raise.