Trump and Senator Marco Rubio are expected to hold a private event on Capitol Hill to discuss changes to the tax code and build support for the Trump administration’s proposals around paid leave and child care. Could this unlikely duo really come up with a workable solution to the twin disasters of child care and parental leave in the United States?
For wealthy and upper-middle income families, almost certainly yes. For everyone else? Almost certainly no.
Last month, the Trump administration released a draft budget calling for six-weeks of paid parental leave that would be accompanied by devastating cuts to child-focused entitlements like the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicaid, and food assistance. It’s a terrible deal, essentially offering low-income parents six weeks at home in exchange for nearly every welfare program that might help them continue to house, feed, or materially provide for their child.
Before that, Donald Trump announced a child care proposal that started as a giveaway to families earning more than $100,000 a year and then changed, in the face of heavy criticism, into the standard kind of tax credit that doesn’t do much for poor families who need more than a one-time tax refund to afford the monthly out-of-pocket cost of daycare. (As an example, the average annual cost of infant care in Washington, DC, is $22,631, and a full-time minimum wage salary is $21,840. The math here is pretty straightforward.)
Rubio is particularly fond of these tax credits, and will likely use his co-billing with Trump to advocate for more of them:
Sources familiar with the upcoming event suggest it will also be an opportunity for Rubio to discuss another of his favorite tax provisions: the Child Tax Credit (CTC). Along with Senator Mike Lee, Rubio has been a long-time advocate of expanding the CTC and making it refundable against payroll taxes — a change that, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, would significantly increase the progressivity of the tax system.
Right now, the child tax credit allows families earning more than $3,000 to claim a tax credit of $1,000 per child. Rubio’s plan, which he announced in 2014 with Utah Senator Mike Lee, adds another tax credit of $2,500 and removes caps that phase out the benefit for higher income levels.
The thing is, families that don’t earn enough to pay taxes don’t benefit from tax credits. That’s the problem with relying on the tax system to fix a problem like childcare, which hits poor families the hardest.
Still, Rubio, like Ivanka Trump, tends to talk about these policies as if they benefit all families regardless of income. But as Ryan Cooper wrote at The Week when Rubio and Lee rolled out their plan in 2014, the expanded tax credit does nothing to help low-income families struggling to pay for child care or other living expenses and nothing to address child poverty more broadly. More than that, according to the policy’s architect, economist Robert Stein, it’s not supposed to.
The proposed child tax credit is designed to “hold harmless the bottom 20 percent,” but “not designed to encourage fertility in the poor over and above what we already do,” he said. The idea is “trying to allow people to have the number of kids they would without government intervention.”
Thus, when I brought up the child poverty angle, Stein demurred. The policy “is not addressed toward child poverty,” he said. “I have no idea what to do [about that].”
Rubio’s tax credit is not a solution for working families struggling to make ends meet or put their kids in quality daycare. It’s a gift to wealthy parents who want to have more children. It is also the kind of proposal you might expect from the author of a book for working women that erases what most women’s work in the United States actually looks like. These two will get along great.