Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) on Wednesday unveiled the latest version of their American Family Act — in my view, likely to be the single most important bill of the 116th Congress for the country’s poorest residents.
The bill, whose House counterpart is sponsored by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Suzan DelBene (D-WA), almost certainly won’t pass this session. It comes from the Democratic Senate minority and might not get any Republican support. But if enacted, the bill would slash child poverty in the United States by over a third in a single stroke. Passing it would enact a child allowance in the United States, bringing us in line with our peers in Canada, the United Kingdom, and most of the rich world in guaranteeing a basic payment for the care of children.
Most important, in its latest incarnation, the bill has the support of the majority of the Democratic House and Senate caucuses, including the No. 2 Democrats in the House and Senate (Steny Hoyer and Dick Durbin, respectively); just about every possible Democratic 2020 contender currently in Congress from Tim Ryan in the House to Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren in the Senate; and leaders of both the moderate (Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Chris Coons) and left (Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) wings of the party. Thirty-five Democratic senators (out of 48 Democrats total) and 168 Democratic House Reps (out of 235) are sponsors or co-sponsors.
Given that the bill could easily be passed through budget reconciliation — which requires only a bare majority in the Senate — it has a strong shot at being enacted the next time Democrats have a governing trifecta in the House, Senate, and presidency, whether that’s in 2021, 2025, or later. What’s more, the expiration of the Trump tax bill in 2025 will force a reconsideration of the US tax code, giving Democrats an opportunity to push for the inclusion of a child poverty-slashing provision in whatever deal comes out of that deadline.
2021 or 2025 isn’t soon enough for the nation’s poor kids; in a better world, Trump and the Senate Republican leadership would adopt the proposal as their own, the way some center-right intellectuals have.
But while it could take a number of years, the odds of a generational reduction in child poverty in America just went way, way up.
How the American Family Act works
The American Family Act of 2019 would dramatically expand the child tax credit (CTC), which currently offers up to $2,000 a year for families with significant earnings but little or nothing for many poor people. It would pay:
- $3,000 per year, or $250 per month, per child ages 6 to 16
- $3,600 per year, or $300 per month, per child ages 0 to 5
The benefits would be distributed monthly, in advance, so families could pace out their spending and smooth their incomes. Because the CTC, like the earned income tax credit, is currently paid out through tax refunds, it sometimes leads to a perverse situation in which families use it to pay down debt they never would’ve had to incur if they’d gotten the money earlier.