As the 2020 election gets closer, we will be hearing more about family policy, particularly affordable childcare and paid family leave. Family policy continues to be controversial in the United States even though every other industrialized country offers generous financial supports to families. Only 9% of the federal budget is spent on children in the US and that share is shrinking. By 2020, interest payments on the national debt are projected to exceed federal spending on children and to more than double by 2028. As a result, children’s spending is expected to fall to less than 7% of the federal budget by 2028. Here are examples of some of the bills currently before Congress and proposals for family legislation in the public sphere.
Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act
Two major family bills are now before Congress. One is the 2019 Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act (S.463/H.R. 1185). The FAMILY Act, sponsored by Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representative Rosa De Lauro (D-CT) has 27 co-sponsors in the Senate and 130 co-sponsors in the House.
The FAMILY Act entitles every worker who has been employed during the past 12 months to a family and medical leave insurance benefit payment of partial income (up to 66% of wages) for up to 12 weeks when they take time off because of:
- their own serious health condition, including pregnancy and childbirth recovery
- the serious health condition of a child, parent, spouse or domestic partner
- the birth or adoption of a child
- particular military caregiving and leave purposes
The benefit would cover all workers in all companies regardless of size and would be financed by small employee and employer payroll contributions of two-tenths of 1% each or less than $2.00 per week for a typical worker. However, the FAMILY act is not inclusive because it would not cover those who are self-employed, attending school or at-home parents. Here’s a Fact Sheet from the National Partnership on the 2019 FAMILY Act.
Inclusive family policy
There is a serious disconnect between U.S. families and family policy. For decades, policymakers have been pushed to focus on “working families” with the result that many family policies help some families while discriminating against millions of others.
FAHN points out that millions of families, including low-income families, do not fit the model of “working families” who are usually the focus of family policy. According to FAHN, these families “cross the spectrum of economic status, cultural and political outlooks, religious beliefs, race and ethnicity.” Specifically, they include families with:
- One at-home parent and one working parent
- Parents working different shifts so one is always available for caregiving
- Parents who share caregiving with extended family
- Parents who trade caregiving with friends in a cooperative arrangement
- Parents whose children are being raised by grandparents
FAHN calls on federal, state and municipal policymakers to
adopt the principle of inclusion, recognize and disregard the lobbying efforts of special interest groups, and focus on serious policy proposals put forth by our nation’s highly-respected nonpartisan think tanks.
Support for paid family leave
A 2018 Paid Leave Survey from the Cato Institute found that 74% of US adults support paid federal leave. California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York and Washington have their own paid family and medical leave programs as do San Francisco and the District of Columbia. The state programs generally provide 55% to 67% of wages for 10 to 12 weeks (six weeks of temporary disability insurance and four to six weeks of additional paid family leave).
States that have their own unpaid family leave laws include Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin, most of which have expanded either the amount of leave available under the Family Medical Leave Act (1993) or the classes of persons for whom leave may be taken.
More than 50 municipalities provide paid leave for municipal workers, with at least 24 cities and counties adopting such legislation in 2016 or early 2017.
The American Family Act
Another bill before Congress is the American Family Act of 2019 (S. 690 /H.R. 1560). It is sponsored by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and by Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Suzan DelBene (D-WA) and is often referred to as the Bennet-Brown Bill. Thirty-five Democratic senators and 168 Democratic house representatives are either sponsors or so-sponsors of the bill. The American Family would amend the Internal Revenue Code, with respect to the child tax credit, to:
- make the credit fully refundable
- increase the amount of the credit
- allow an additional credit for children six and under
- require the amount of the tax credit to be adjusted annually for inflation
- require the Department of the Treasury to make advance payments of the credit on a monthly basis
Here’s a Fact Sheet on the American Family Act. The Columbia University Center on Poverty and Social Policy released a report that found that the American Family Act would cut child poverty by 38%. An analysis of the bill from the Niskanen Center concludes:
In addition to reducing poverty, the international evidence on child allowances and research on existing refundable tax credits in the United States suggests the American Family Act would improve parent and child health, promote family stability, and raise child test scores. Together, this reflects the flexibility of child allowances to meet the diverse needs of parents and their children.
Kamala Harris, (D-CA) has offered a similar proposal in her LIFT (Livable Incomes for Families Today) the Middle Class Act. Her proposed legislation would provide middle class and working families with a tax credit of up to $6000 a year.
In addition to these bills before Congress, there are also two family policy proposals that are gaining momentum. One is Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) childcare plan and the other is the Family Fun Pack.
Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act
The Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act would create a network of government-funded care centers based partly on the existing Head Start network, with employees paid comparably to public-school teachers. Families earning less than 200% of the federal poverty level would be able to send their children to these centers for free. Families earning more than that would be charged on a sliding scale, up to a maximum of 7% of their income. The plan would be funded by Ms. Warren’s proposed wealth tax on households with more than $50 million in assets.
This act is not inclusive as it only provides a benefit to the minority of families who use child care centers. Overall, 38% of preschoolers in the US are cared for by non-relatives or organized childcare facilities while 49% of preschoolers are cared for by a parent or other relative. According to the Census Bureau, in 2011 only 16% of children in poverty were cared for in daycare centers.
Warren’s plan has met with mixed response. The Economist acknowledges that some plan for affordable child care is needed, but cites the failure of the universal child-care program in Quebec in the 1990s and says that, in practice, Senator Warren’s proposal would be a middle-class entitlement.
The complicated infrastructure it envisions would be less efficient than simple cash transfers to poor families with children—and would give uncertain returns.
The Family Fun Pack
The Family Fun Pack, a proposal by Matt Bruenig of the People’s Policy Project, would put the US on a par with family policies in other industrialized countries and significantly reduce child poverty. Its parental leave and child care proposals are inclusive. The Family Fun Pack’s solutions are:
- Baby Box with essential baby items that is received three months before baby is born
- Parental Leave of up go 36 weeks and an Income Benefit during Parental Leave equal to 100% of earnings up to the minimum wage and 66% of wages over the minimum wage.
- Free public child care for children between six months and three years. Parents who wish to care for their children at home can opt out and receive a home child care allowance equal to the per-child wages of child care workers.
- Free Pre-Kindergarten for ages three to five.
- Free School Lunch for all children from pre-K through High School
- Free Healthcare for those under 26 through enrollment in the Medicare system with no cost-sharing.
- Monthly Child Allowance of $300 per child under 18.
People’s Policy Project (3P) is a crowdfunded think tank founded in 2017 and supported by monthly donations from small donors. The primary mission of 3P is to publish ideas and analysis that assist in the development of an economic system that serves the many, not the few. Matt Bruenig, president of 3P, is a lawyer, blogger, policy analyst and commentator.
About Peggy O’Mara. I am an independent journalist who edits and publishes peggyomara.com. I was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine for over 30 years and founded Mothering.com in 1995. My books include Having a Baby Naturally, Natural Family Living, The Way Back Homeand A Quiet Place. Ihave conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. I am the mother of four and grandmother of three. Please check out my email newsletter with free tips on parenting, activism, and healthy living.