Before last year’s temporary expansion, roughly one-third of American kids — about 23 million children — lived in families that received less than the full amount of the child benefit. (For example, before the expansion, a family with two kids making $20,000 annually would be eligible for a child tax credit check of only $2,625, while one making $200,000 would receive the full $4,000.) Changing the suite of child-related benefits in the tax code to a $300 monthly benefit, with an additional $50 per month for children under 6, would be a tangible way of making low-income and working-class parents’ lives easier.
Last year, of course, the Biden administration expanded the child tax credit to virtually all families, including those with no workers. But as I explored for The Times last year, many working-class parents viewed the idea of unconditional cash benefits going to families without a worker as fundamentally unfair. Polling, too, suggests that child benefits with no connection to work are unpopular.
A conservative pro-family economic agenda would incorporate the insight that work is an important part of being engaged in society and providing for one’s family. This principle could be connected to the child tax credit in a method designed to be clear and administratively simple: To be eligible for the monthly payments, families would be required to hit an earnings threshold, such as the single-person federal poverty line ($13,590 a year in 2022). Families with earnings below that threshold would see their benefit scaled down, assuming conservative concerns about perverse labor force incentives. (Parents who earned 50 percent of the threshold would, for instance, see their monthly child benefit amount reduced by half but continue to be eligible for safety-net programs.)
This approach would create an easily understandable linkage between receiving the child benefit and having at least one parent working and would be partly paid for by collapsing the tangle of existing child benefits, earned-income tax credit adjustments and child care deductions into a straightforward monthly benefit . It would recognize that families shouldn’t lose benefits for having additional children and ensure that low-income couples don’t face a marriage penalty.
Beyond the tax code, congressional Republicans could play to their supply-side strengths and champion a cost-of-living agenda aimed at some of parents’ biggest headaches: health care, child care and housing. They could listen to Robert Orr of the center-right Niskanen Center and boost the number of medical professionals while experimenting with increased cost sharing for maternal and child health care. They could expand child care options by bolstering the capacity of faith-based and community providers rather than relying on large-scale subsidies. And they could lower the cost of housing by attacking environmental regulations and restrictive zoning laws that make it difficult for housing supply to meet demand.
This policy agenda will require Republicans to restrain their usual impulse to reach for tax cuts as a cure-all. But if it is put into practice, they can showcase how parents’ lives can be made easier by applying traditional conservative principles about work, incentives and regulation to contemporary problems, without necessitating Build Back Better-style federal intervention.
A favorable Dobbs decision would certainly not turn the GOP into a European-style Christian democratic party overnight. But some state-level action is showing signs of a party trending in a more pro-family direction while retaining its core principles. Texas’ backdoor abortion ban got most of the headlines, but the state also passed a bipartisan expansion of Medicaid for mothers up to six months after giving birth. Idaho and Oklahoma, with legislatures dominated by Republicans, have introduced state-level child tax credits, and the politically divided Minnesota may become the 10th to do so, as part of ongoing budget negotiations.