“The percentage of Americans struggling with hunger is now at its lowest level since the pandemic began, suggesting the recent flood in aid from Washington is making a significant difference to families struggling economically.
Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau this week shows the percentage of adults living in households that sometimes or often did not have enough to eat dipped to just over 8 percent late last month, down from nearly 11 percent in March. That is a substantial drop, and it came after hundreds of billions in stimulus checks went out.”
“While the recent spate of federal aid is clearly a major factor, it’s still too early to know how much of the recent drop in hunger is related to the stimulus payments and stepped up food aid versus how much has been fueled by the improving economy. Economists have found that previous rounds of stimulus checks also led to declines in hunger amid major spikes of unemployment.”
“examining how the rollout of Medicaid in the late 1960s affected people who were children at the time.
If you got health insurance through the program as a child, he found, you were less likely to die young; you were likelier to be employed and less likely to have a disability as an adult; and all these benefits actually wound up saving the government money.”
“this problem of an overcomplicated system that makes it hard for people to access benefits isn’t limited to the stimulus checks. For many government benefits, lots of people who are eligible don’t get it — often because they have no idea how to sign up.”
“the federal government needs to make its assistance programs simpler and more accessible. Some headway was actually made on this issue in the recent stimulus plan — Biden’s child allowance converted the existing child tax credit into a near-universal benefit sent to eligible recipients every month, making the program both more generous and accessible. But that’s a one-year fix, and there’s much more work to be done on this front.”
“it’s not enough to pass programs that help them in principle; the government actually has to build the infrastructure to get that help into their hands.
For example, the IRS was made responsible for sending out the stimulus checks and publicizing eligibility, but it doesn’t have a budget for public outreach or marketing. It could easily have been given one along with the responsibility of sending the checks out.”
“Some policy thinkers favor giving every American a federal bank account, which would simultaneously solve the problem of underbanking — where poor people, who aren’t profitable for the banking system to seek out as customers, struggle with access to basic financial services — and the problem of sending out stimulus checks and benefits. In principle, the government could respond to recessions, pandemics, and disasters of every kind by just dropping some money in our Fed Accounts.”
“the international experience shows that a child allowance is not anti-work. The vast majority of countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development already provide an unconditional child benefit, and most have a higher labor force participation rate than the U.S. In fact, research suggests that parents receiving allowances actually work more: “After Canada enacted a national child allowance in 2006, employment rates for mothers actually increased across the board,” according to one report. In 2016, Canada increased its annual child allowance to $4,800 per young child and $4,000 per older child — and the economy added jobs.”
“In 2019, Mitt Romney made history: he became the first Senate Republican to endorse a form of child allowance, where all low- and middle-income parents would get a cash benefit to help raise their kids, regardless of whether or not they’re able to work. At the time, the plan was modest, amounting to only $1,500 a year for kids under 6 and $1,000 for kids 6-17.
But on Thursday, Romney went even further and proposed the Family Security Act, one of the most generous child-benefit packages ever, regardless of political party. The plan completely overhauls the current child tax credit (CTC) and turns it from a once-a-year bonus to massive income support, paid out monthly by the Social Security Administration.”
“Romney’s plan would replace the CTC, currently worth up to $2,000 per child and restricted to parents with substantial income (it doesn’t fully kick in until you reach an income of over $11,000), with a flat monthly allowance paid out to all parents:
Parents of kids ages 0 to 5 would get $350 per month, or $4,200 a year
Parents of kids ages 6 to 17 would get $250 per month, or $3,000 a year
Parents with multiple kids could get a maximum of $1,250 per month or $15,000 a year; that translates to five kids between the ages of 6 and 17. Very large families would be somewhat penalized, but many families with three or four kids will get the full benefit.”
“Romney’s proposal would phase out for wealthy parents — the benefits begin phasing out for single filers with $200,000 and joint filers with $400,000 in annual income.”
“If you’re a liberal reading this and wondering if there’s a catch, there is — but it’s not necessarily a huge one. Romney doesn’t want his plan to add to the deficit, and he wants to simplify the set of child-related benefits the government currently offers. So his plan would pay for the child allowance by eliminating a number of other programs, including some that mostly benefit the poor ”
“The upside of Romney’s plan being fully paid for, however, is that it would allow Congress to make the measure permanent under budget reconciliation rules, whereas the Biden proposal that relies on deficit funding is a temporary one-year measure.”
“It’s hard to see Romney’s proposal gaining enough Republican support to get the plan above 60 votes, though I’d be thrilled to be proven wrong on that front. But it could easily, with Romney, Democrats, and maybe a few other choice Republicans on board, make it into a reconciliation package.”
“The $1.9 trillion Covid stimulus that the House is expected to pass Wednesday includes roughly $100 billion in aid to families with dependent children.
If that phrase rings a bell, it’s because “Aid to Families with Dependent Children” was the name of the New Deal-era welfare program eliminated by President Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform bill. Back then, Democrats worried (with some reason) that AFDC enabled, for some families, long-term dependency on welfare. To limit time spent collecting welfare and to move low-income mothers off the dole, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act.
Now, a quarter-century later, in the midst of a Covid recession, the Democrats are reviving no-strings financial assistance to families with children. The bill nearly doubles the Treasury’s expenditure on the child tax credit, and extends eligibility to nearly everyone. The Covid bill would increase the maximum child tax credit from $2,000 per child to $3,600 per child. It would also, for the first time, extend the benefit to nonworking Americans—a significant departure from the program’s origins in 1997 as a tax break for middle- and upper-income families.”
“the pendulum hasn’t just swung back for Democrats. While the Covid bill was under consideration in the Senate, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney proposed his own expansion of the child tax credit, one that would raise the maximum benefit even higher, to $4,200 per child (though Romney would offset that with cuts to other income-support programs). Romney’s plan was attacked immediately as “welfare assistance” by Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Mike Lee, and in the end, Republicans voted as a bloc against the Covid bill that contained President Joe Biden’s version. But Rubio and Lee favor raising the maximum child tax credit, too; indeed, they want to raise it even higher than Romney, to $4,500. (Their difference with both Romney and Biden is that they would not extend the child tax credit to nonworking families.)”
“Does increasing the value of the child tax credit risk building the work disincentive back up? It does, but to a much smaller extent. The expansions that Biden and Romney put forth largely mooted these worries by making eligibility virtually universal. If there’s no income level at which you lose your child tax credit, then the marginal tax a jobless person pays on jumping back into the workforce is zero. And if the eligibility cutoff is very high—under the Covid bill, many families earning in the six figures still get the full $3,600—then reducing or eliminating the credit isn’t going to pinch very hard.
The catch is that the closer you get to making a government benefit universally available, the more expensive it gets.”
“Suppose you’re a single parent raising two kids, ages 3 and 5. You were furloughed in the spring, when the big-box store you worked at downsized. You started getting hours again in the summer, enduring substantial risk by going to work with customers who didn’t always wear masks. Child care was a mess, and you had to scrape together help from family and friends.
It was a rough year — but you stayed afloat. In total, you ended up working about 1,000 hours last year at $14 an hour, or $14,000 total — plus there were the two stimulus checks the government sent out in April and December.
Less heralded but no less important to helping you pay the bills were a couple of tax credits the government offers: You got $1,725 through the complicated child tax credit (CTC) and another $5,600 from the earned income tax credit (EITC). That came out to $7,325 — a badly needed infusion. But as is the case every year, it was also a pain — you basically have to go to a tax preparer every tax season to help you with the paperwork to claim the credits.
This week, your member of Congress, in an unprecedented act of constituent outreach, asks you to hop on a Zoom. She’s working on legislation meant to make life easier for single parents like you, including a stimulus check. But it’s the two options to reform the tax credits that she wants to ask you about.
The first option: The government will increase your CTC a ton, so you get a whopping $7,200 a year ($3,600 per child), not just $1,725. Instead of a lump sum at tax time, the government will send you the money every month or so. Under this scenario, you’d still get the $5,600 from the EITC. The downside? You’d still have to go through all that tax prep every spring.
The second option: The government will junk the CTC — and will just send you $700 per month in the mail. That’s $350 per kid under 6, every month, regardless of whether you owe taxes. Perhaps just as appealing, there’s no tax-season paperwork to prepare. That’s $8,400 per year total, even more than the CTC in option one. The downside in this scenario: Under this plan, the EITC shrinks — and your EITC goes down to $2,000.
To recap: Both give you more money than you get now. Option one gives you more money than option two. But option two makes your life much easier logistically. You get big regular monthly payments whose amount doesn’t vary. And you would no longer be in a desperate rush every spring to get your tax return in for your big refund.
Option one above is what Democrats in Congress and the Biden administration want to do to tackle child poverty. Option two is Republican Sen. Mitt Romney’s plan to enact a new, simplified child allowance.”
“If you make $14,000 a year, there are a bunch of state and federal programs out there to help you. And by “a bunch,” I mean a bunch.
Depending on the state you’re in, you may qualify for Medicaid. It’s not so simple, though — you’re eligible in every state that did the Obamacare expansion, but a bunch of states (Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi) set the eligibility cutoff much lower. In Texas, single parents have to make less than $277 a month to qualify, so in this scenario, you’d be way too “rich.” (And getting your kids covered through Medicaid or S-CHIP is a whole other can of worms.)
Need housing? You can apply for a housing choice voucher under the Section 8 program, but it’s underfunded so you will have to navigate years or decades of waitlists.
Need help with child care and early education? There’s Head Start and Early Head Start. In addition, there’s the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant — but you probably won’t get it; only about 15 percent of income-eligible families do, and depending on your state, you might have to be enrolled in a formal welfare-to-work program.
Speaking of which, you might get some money from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). But, again, most don’t, and for those who do it’s strictly time-limited and requires tedious “work reports” to prove you’re not too “lazy” to deserve it.
In the winter, if you need help with heat, there’s the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) — but only 20 percent of eligible families get it.
You’ll probably be able to get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, or food stamps, to help with groceries. If you have an infant, you can probably get aid from the nutrition program for women, infants, and children. There are probably some other programs I’m forgetting.
Conservatives and libertarians sometimes see this laundry list and think, “Look at how much we do for poor people!” I see it and think, “Look at how ridiculously complicated the system we make poor people navigate is.””
“Romney’s child allowance plan is generous. The Democrats’ plan is even more so. But Romney’s plan has one edge: It simplifies things for the people it’s supposed to benefit.”
“At least $63 billion—an amount larger than the current annual budgets of 42 states—of the boosted unemployment payments distributed as part of the federal government’s pandemic response has been distributed improperly, according to an estimate from the Department of Labor Office of the Inspector General. The office attributes a “significant portion” of those improper payments to fraud, and preliminary audits indicate that the actual amount of improper payments may be higher.”
“The inspector general reports “a forty-fold increase” in the number of fraud-related matters, which have “exploded” since the CARES Act passed.”
“payments to people who can’t work because of the pandemic (or due to the government’s response to it) is a defensible proposal. But even defensible proposals have costs to consider. Extending the federally boosted unemployment payments through August will cost taxpayers an estimated $246 billion—and that likely means that another $24 billion, or more, will be lost to fraud.”