Utah Child Advocate, Economist Respond To ‘American Families Plan’
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – In his first address to a joint session of congress, President Joe Biden outlined his American Families Plan, a $1.8 trillion proposal that aims to tackle child poverty, expand access to child care and education, and offer what the White House has described as long-term solutions to challenges America’s families face.
For Matthew Weinstein with Voices for Utah Children, the most important solution the plan provides is extending the already increased child tax credits. The American Rescue Plan increased the credits to $250 a month for children 6 to 17 years old and $300 per child for kids 5 and younger.
“It’s expected to cut the child poverty rate this year about in half, which is tremendous,” Weinstein said. “It’s really the biggest thing the federal government has done about child poverty in as long as anyone can remember.”
Weinstein, who is a fiscal policy director, said the latest data from 2019 shows Utah is doing better than most states when it comes to child poverty. He said the national poverty rate then was about 17% compared to “only 10%” in Utah.
“When you say only 10% though you have to keep in mind, you’re talking about almost 100,000 children living below the poverty line,” he said. “That’s a lot of kids who are at risk of not graduating high school. Not getting the education they need. Maybe even getting in trouble with the law.”
He noted disparities that exist in the state for child poverty and education and said the White House plan could help close some of the existing gaps in education, expanding access and increasing affordability from childcare and pre-kindergarten through higher education.
“That’s where the federal help would really make a lot of sense to make it possible for more of our kids to go to college without having to worry about going into debt. Without having to worry about not being able to afford it,” he said.
The White House described the American Families Plan as “an investment in our children and our families—helping families cover the basic expenses that so many struggle with now, lowering health insurance premiums, and continuing the American Rescue Plan’s historic reductions in child poverty.”
But some wonder, at what cost?
“I’m an economist so that’s kind of my starting point is I’m comparing benefits and costs and there are benefits to this and there are costs to this,” said Phil Dean, a public finance senior research fellow at the Kem C. Gardner Institute at the University of Utah.
Dean can’t help but look at the plan’s $1.8 trillion price tag and what the cost might be for certain programs beyond the dollar amount. President Biden has proposed a tax hike on the top one percent of American earners.
“What are the strings attached when the federal government is paying for something?” Dean asked. “How much of the higher education policy is going to be dictated by federal government along with those federal dollars that would come, versus how much are we going to control here?”
Another challenge Utah and the rest of the country is facing is historically low birth rates. An issue that could have long-term impacts on the economy.
“It may surprise people but we’re actually below replacement level here in Utah,” he said. “Jobs in the economy. Consumption in the economy. All these things are tied closely to the number of people in the economy.”
He isn’t convinced government programs are the answer.
“I do think it is an open question of how much any particular government program would change that,” he said. “If you look at Europe that has extensive social programs you also see an even lower fertility rate there than what we have here in the U.S.”
Weinstein says Utah has “the lowest percentage in the country of children growing up in single-parent families,” which puts it in a better position than most. But he says there are still real issues facing Utah’s families and gaps between groups of people that need to be filled. And he sees the American Families Plan as a way to help us get there.
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