Politics & Policy

Biden’s Child-Care Plan Is Wrong for Families and Ignores the Lessons of the Past

If pulling families out of poverty were as simple as handing moms and dads a check, we would have solved poverty a long time ago.

America’s families are in crisis. The pandemic has placed major strains on American families, as shown by rising household debt numbers. But even before the pandemic, Americans were getting married less and having fewer children than ever before, and the cost of living for middle-class families was far too high.

The immediate task of pandemic relief must be to help restore families’ financial health. That’s why I support and have called for President Biden to increase the latest round of stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000 per person, including children.

I will gladly support more pandemic relief for families. But while President Biden and Democrats in Congress claim to support them also, buried in their $1.9 trillion spending plan is a proposal that would create a new program to give monthly cash payments to parents, not just for the pandemic, but permanently.

Their plan would send all parents checks totaling up to $3,600 per child and hand out new subsidies for day care. No questions asked and no strings attached.

That is not pro-family policy, no matter how much Democrats will claim it to be.

If pulling families out of poverty were as simple as handing moms and dads a check, we would have solved poverty a long time ago. There is substantially more to lifting families out of poverty than government-provided income, and for decades, there was a bipartisan consensus that work, marriage, and community were critical pieces of poverty reduction.

The corrosive effect of cash payments with no strings attached was once widely accepted. In 1988, then-Senator Biden expressed concern that the “welfare system has broken down” because “it only parcels out welfare checks and does nothing to help the poor find productive jobs.”

It took decades of bipartisan effort to reform our federal welfare programs so that they encouraged work instead of dependency. Now-President Biden’s agenda seeks to remove or bypass requirements that were critical to helping those families out of poverty.

It is not pro-family to provide cash payments without ensuring that at least one parent has a stable job or a path to getting one, because it makes the family reliant on those cash benefits.

It is not pro-family to remove longstanding financial incentives for low-income single parents to marry.

It is not pro-family to provide direct cash payments without ensuring parents with troubled histories, whether because of crime or substance abuse, are put on a path to recovery and stability.

It is not pro-family to provide direct cash payments to single parents without ensuring child-support orders are established, and to do so will destroy the child-support enforcement system as we know it.

We know these cash payments with no strings attached are not pro-family because this was the way of America’s welfare system for decades.

But by 1996, then-president Bill Clinton bragged that the welfare reform he negotiated with then-speaker Newt Gingrich would “transform a broken system that traps too many people in a cycle of dependence to one that emphasizes work and independence.” This has been a shared bipartisan priority ever since.

Biden’s so-called child allowance and other child-care subsidies would begin to unravel this success.

The good news is that we can support parents without undermining the inherent value and dignity of work.

In 2017, Republicans came together to double the size of the child tax credit. The impact on American families was real. The income group seeing the largest increase in tax cuts from the increased child tax credit was much of America’s working class — households making between $20,000 and $50,000. And thanks to the expansion, families with less than $20,000 in income saw their child benefits increase by nearly 2.5 times.

Being a parent is the most important job any of us will ever have, and there is no doubt that we can do more to relieve the burden parents face today and maintain our commitment to work and marriage.

Last week, Senator Mike Lee (R., Utah) and I outlined a proposal that would expand the child tax credit to $3,500 per child, and $4,500 per child under the age of six. The key difference — aside from being an even larger credit than proposed by Biden — is that ours is directly tied to work. This is critical because it would provide additional support to families while maintaining the vital connection to work.

A government check can never replace the ability to earn high wages and fulfill the American promise that if you work hard and live responsibly, you and your family will flourish.

The coronavirus pandemic has made flourishing difficult, but we cannot allow that to become a permanent condition. By supporting families and work, we can actually rebuild and repair, and make our country stronger than it has ever been before.

Marco Rubio is the senior U.S. senator from Florida. He is the acting chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

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