Two months before Election Day, Donald Trump pledged to fix American child care — starting with the tax code. He proposed allowing parents to deduct the average cost of care from their income taxes, an expense that can annually reach up to to $22,000.
He also said mothers who give birth would become eligible for six weeks of partially paid maternity leave, a new benefit that would come from a tweak to the nation’s unemployment insurance program. The average weekly payout, his team said, would fall around $300.
“For many families, child care is now the single largest expense, even more so than housing,” he said in a September speech. “Yet very little policy work has been done in this area.”
Republicans have traditionally avoided tackling specific issues working families face, choosing instead to focus on jobs and the economy (and letting the market handle the rest). Democrats, on the other hand, have argued the country should play a bigger role in supporting parents with public programs, particularly paid leave.
But as the cost of child care has soared and workers nationwide clamored for relief, pressure has mounted this year on both sides. Amid this political climate, Trump unveiled child-care and maternity leave policy proposals, inspired by his older daughter, Ivanka.
"American families need relief," she said at the Republican National Convention. "Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties, they should be the norm."
Americans who file tax returns as early as 2018 could take advantage of the deductions, analysts predict, if Congress allows them to become law. The maternity leave plan, however, could face more opposition on a GOP-controlled Capitol Hill. Bill Clinton had floated a similar plan in 1999, and George W. Bush killed it.
In Trump’s America, you might be able to write off day-care tuition.
Under Trump’s plan, the total deduction would be capped at the average cost of care in whatever state a parent or guardian files their income taxes.
Trump’s team has not specified how they’d work that figure out. The typical cost of care varies widely across the country, ranging from $5,500 annually for full-time, center-based infant care in Alabama to nearly $22,000 in Washington, D.C., according to a 2015 analysis from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
The most detailed example of how it would work thus far comes from the campaign website: A family making the national average of about $70,000 each year with a $7,000 child-care burden, for example, would annually save $840, according to the campaign website.
Parents who earn more than $250,000 individually or $500,000 together would not qualify for Trump’s break.
Low-income families may gain little to nothing from a tax deduction like Trump has proposed.
That's because many pay little to nothing in income taxes. “The plan tilts benefits toward high income families, rather than low income,” said Elaine Maag, a senior research associate at the Tax Policy Center.
For poor families, Trump said he wanted to create a new rebate, one that would work like a tax credit and be worth roughly $1,200 per household. The rebate would join the existing Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, which is worth between $1,050 and $2,100. Households, however, could receive only one of these credits, according to Trump’s blueprint. Therefore, a low-income parent with one kid would bank just an extra $150 per year.
Alan Cole, an economist at the Tax Foundation, an independent tax policy research organization, said Trump’s child-care plan is one of the most detailed proposals to arise from the president-elect’s unconventional campaign.
But all tax changes, of course, must happen through Congress, and he doesn’t expect House Republicans to swiftly approve Trump’s vision.
“Republican Congress members think about taxes a lot and have prepared for this moment,” Cole said. “But their blueprint doesn’t include a child-care component” — a measure that would drive up the price while cutting against party values.
No other Republican politician has tried to legislate a child-care solution. Democrats argue the government should funnel cash to states to expand their own child-care programs and give workers a raise to boost quality. Hillary Clinton said her goal was to, through a wave of new tax credits and subsidies, ensure no family spends more than 10 percent of their income on the expense.
Paid leave — for moms only
Clinton had proposed making paid family leave a new public benefit, giving parents, both men and women, 12 weeks of time off at two-thirds their wages. She said a tax hike on the wealthy would fund the program.
Trump said he would rather open six weeks of paid maternity leave to biological mothers. Fathers and adoptive parents need not apply. Federal policy today provides 12 weeks of unpaid time off, regardless of gender.
The president-elect said he would create this safety net through unemployment insurance, which employers must provide under federal law. The country’s Federal-State Unemployment Insurance currently funnels benefits to workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own.
Under Trump’s proposal, new mothers whose employers do not supply paid family leave would fall into that category. Working family advocates worry the distinction would single them out as more costly and therefore less hireable, while leaving out men who are their family’s primary caretakers.
“This looks like a policy from someone who sees child-rearing as solely the responsibility of women and doesn't understand American families,” said Ellen Bravo, executive director of the national advocacy group Family Values at Work.
Trump said the price wouldn’t burden companies, because he would pay for it by eliminating unemployment insurance fraud, which analysts say amounts to $3 billion of the $100 billion in annual spending on the program.
Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said he doubts quashing fraud could offset the cost. He’s also unsure whether House Republicans will push through a new law that expands a government program. He warns of an unintended consequence.
“There can be an incentive for employers to drop their own plans,” Stone said, “unless they are regarded as an important recruiting and retention tool.”
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