A former member of the Reagan administration issues occasional broadsides about social welfare policies, using the pseudonym “Peter the Citizen.” I almost always agree with his positions, which are deeply informed and far from the dismissive and inhumane proclamations of too many of today’s Republicans.
He began by examining an assertion by Matt Weidinger of the American Enterprise Institute, to the effect that “FDR’s vision promoting the dignity of work is under assault by Democrats providing relief to able-bodied adults.” Weidinger was taking issue with the (widely lauded) expanded child tax credit, arguing that
These “child allowances” replace a program that today provides tax relief and associated assistance only to parents who work, amplifying the new program’s embrace of relief over work.
As Peter points out, many of Weidinger’s arguments about the “success” of welfare reform and the potential negative effects of a child allowance are misleading when they aren’t simply wrong. They certainly don’t reflect the mainstream view of researchers and experts who study anti-poverty programs.
Indeed, they also seem to be out-of-step with his one-time colleague, Ron Haskins, who is considered by many to be the “architect” of welfare reform.
Peter quotes from Haskins–another conservative, albeit one who seems much more knowledgable about the history and current status of welfare reform– on several points, and I encourage readers to click through for a broader, more in-depth analysis, but I was particularly struck by the back-and-forth on restricting child support to children whose parents work. As Peter writes, Weidinger is simply wrong to suggest that supporters of a child allowance are rejecting “work in favor of relief.”
Haskins served as a member of the Committee on Building an Agenda to Reduce the Number of Children in Poverty by Half in 10 Years. That committee produced a report that recommended a child allowance.
In testimony summarizing the findings, conclusions, and recommendations from the Committee’s report, A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty, Haskins describes the possible pro-work effect of a child allowance: Because child allowance benefits are not reduced as earnings increase (at least not until incomes reach 300 percent of the poverty line in Policy, they provide a more secure floor than means-tested benefits, one that does not penalize intermittent work.
At least 17 developed nations have some form of a child allowance. The U.S. federal tax system’s current $2,000 child tax credit is akin to a once-a-year child allowance. Many families with children benefit from its $2,000 per child reduction in taxes. However, currently, these benefits are not universal: families with no or very low incomes (and the very rich) are not eligible. Haskins also explains the importance of extending aid to poor children living in “families with no or very low incomes,” citing the possible long-term employment (and other) benefits for children themselves. Child poverty compromises the health, learning and development of our children and their future employment opportunities and well-being. …
I would file this last observation under “duh.” An enormous amount of data demonstrates that children raised in poverty are stunted in later life–they are less productive, and less likely to be steadily employed. But even if that were not the case, what sort of person says “if your parent doesn’t have acceptable employment, kid, we’re taking it out on you”?
Weidinger echoes GOP talking points to the effect that welfare checks under AFDC “flowed mostly to households in which no one worked and many remained on benefits and in poverty for years.” As Peter notes in response, AFDC checks “flowed mostly to households” without earners because it was targeted to very poor families.
In most states, a job would make a family ineligible for assistance because the income eligibility limits in all states were very low and recipients faced a high marginal tax rate when they went to work (100 percent for AFDC after four months of work). Notably, the expanded child tax credit will be very different than AFDC, because checks will “flow mostly to households” with earnings.
The Weidingers of this world act on the longstanding and pernicious American premise that being poor equates to being morally defective–and evidently, they don’t want to feed poor children if that will help their morally-defective parents.
I understand arguments that focus on the best way to deliver social benefits. I will never understand the argument that we shouldn’t feed and clothe children if we disapprove of their parents.