Unlike government programs that create a large bureaucratic structure to administer them, the child allowance that is part of President Biden’s $1.9 stimulus plan has a simple premise: It will send checks directly to families. With that, the administration hopes to put a big dent in the nation’s rate of child poverty.
The program is approved for just one year, but Democratic lawmakers hope it catches on and they can extend it. The full impact will not be fully evident after 12 months, but in a city like Buffalo — which in 2019 had the nation’s second-highest childhood poverty rate — the effects should be profound.
Under the legislation, families will receive up to $3,600 annually for each child under age 6 and as much as $3,000 for those up to 17. The payments start to phase out for individual parents earning more than $75,000 and couples making $150,000.
In addition to helping families escape the indignities of deprivation, putting spending money into households here could result in businesses such as grocers, banks and retail stores following the money and moving into previously underserved neighborhoods.
Estimates for the cost of the plan range from $110 billion to $120 billion, or around 6 percent of the total stimulus package. That money is an investment with the potential for a very handsome return, and not just for the lower- and middle-class families getting a hand up.
The National Academy of Sciences estimates that childhood poverty costs the United States between $800 billion and $1.1 trillion annually. Limited lifetime earnings and more health problems, homelessness and child neglect are among the factors.
According to the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, the legislation will reduce the number of children living in poverty by 45 percent, slashing the childhood poverty rate for the year to less than 7 percent.
Helping families survive times of need, particularly after a full year of a pandemic, will enable more parents to join the workforce. Despite fears from conservative opponents that the child allowance will discourage adults from wanting to work, there is evidence to the contrary.
Jane Waldfogel, a Columbia University professor, told The New York Times that a family benefits program started by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1999 led to increased employment among single mothers. With his plan, Britain’s childhood poverty rate was eventually cut in half.
The pandemic caused many parents, in many cases women, to leave their jobs to care for family members. Many will use their federal payments to be able to afford child care, better transportation options and other basics that allow them to return to work. The family payments are not enough to live on by themselves.
Other rich countries, including Canada, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, also give families cash payments to subsidize the costs of raising children.
Poverty and many of its side effects — susceptibility to drug addiction and crime, food insecurity — do not stop at the city limits. Residents of rural towns face many of the same issues and will receive the same income boost to help keep their families going. And the size of the check isn’t affected by who you voted for in November.
Most parents want a hand up more than a handout. There is dignity in being able to hold a job and put food on the table rather than relying on food banks or free school lunches, as important as those are. Biden’s anti-poverty program will allow more parents to enter or remain in the workforce, helping our region’s economy to get back on its feet after the beating it has taken from COVID-19.
— The Buffalo (N.Y.) News