WASHINGTON — For the past few months, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, has been quietly pushing for a Republican-friendly version of the expanded child tax credit that he hopes could gain bipartisan support.
His proposal would bring back the direct monthly payments that many parents used for six months last year to cover the cost of food, clothing and child care before Congress let the tax credit expire.
But Romney’s form of additional monthly payments would add tough work requirements, cut programs that help vulnerable Americans and make significant changes to the tax code.
While the extra work requirements and scaled back safety net programs might be hard pills for Democrats to swallow — before they even consider the delicate issue of tax reform — a bipartisan bill could be the only way for the expanded child tax credit to land on President Joe Biden’s desk.
Romney has largely worked with fellow Republicans on his plan, but conversations with Democrats have increased over the past month or so, said a senior GOP official familiar with the proposal.
“I think the momentum is building a bit, and there’s more interest because people on the right want to do something,” the aide said. “I think people on the left are realizing that if they don’t do it in a bipartisan way, it’s not going to happen.”
It’s hard to know which Democrats might be receptive to Romney’s pitch. He said Thursday “there are several Democrats who have expressed interest and spoken to me.” He declined to name any.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who has been part of Democratic efforts to secure an extension of the expanded child tax credit, said he is ready to push the policy forward as a standalone bill, including working with Republicans to pass it. So far, he has voiced his opposition to cutting social programs and adamantly opposes adding work requirements.
“As I’ve said in the past, work demands don’t work, as study after study has shown,” he said. “We shouldn’t punish children just because their families are struggling to find work, especially during a pandemic.”
The tax credit debate hasn’t made much headway on the Democratic side, however, as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia — a key vote for Democrats — remains opposed to reviving the previous policy.
One of Manchin’s biggest concerns, which Democrats have said they can’t address, is that people who aren’t working could get benefits. Manchin told reporters that any expanded child tax credit should include a work requirement, and he announced an income limit of “$75,000 or less” in an interview with West Virginia MetroNews’ “Talkline” on 27 January.
In a statement Wednesday, a spokesperson said Manchin “supports the existing child tax credit that is still in place,” which does not provide direct monthly payments to parents.
The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, which was signed into law about a year ago, increased the child tax credit from $2,000 to $3,600 per child under 6 and $3,000 per child under 17. While previously it only applied when tax returns were filed, the 2021 provision allowed recipients to receive half of the total credit in monthly payments from July through December.
A recent study showed how effective the payments were in lifting children out of poverty, but also how quickly the rate rebounded after the program ended.
The child poverty rate rose from 12% in December to 17% in January, meaning 3.7 million children were pushed back into poverty after monthly payments expired, according to a study by the Columbia University.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., has indicated he’s open to hearing about Romney’s proposal, but isn’t interested in a policy that includes work requirements.
“I’m very suspicious of the job requirements,” he said. “I’ll see what they come up with.”
Blumenthal said there were administrative challenges to the work requirements, and he expressed concerns about the potential effects they could have on low-income households.
“I would like to see how it would work,” Blumenthal said, “practically and – frankly – morally.”
What’s in Romney’s plan
Romney’s proposal, which has yet to be introduced as legislation, stems from his Family Security Act, a bill that would pay benefits in the form of monthly checks of up to $350 per child and make it entirely available for individuals earning up to $200,000 per year or couples. who jointly file taxes up to $400,000.
His original child tax credit proposal didn’t include work requirements, but Romney said he was adding them to satisfy senators on both sides of the aisle, a nod to Manchin’s position. . Romney’s proposal does not spell out all the details of the potential job requirements; a common threshold for state-level programs is 80 hours of work per month or a comparable amount of job training or volunteer work.
An aide said the legislation was still being negotiated and not finalized.
“I’ve spoken with enough Democrats, including Joe Manchin, who insist this is essential. And, by the way, a number of Republicans, as well, say it’s absolutely essential — there has to be a work requirement,” Romney said at an event with the right-wing American Enterprise Institute this week. this month.
A potential work-related provision, Romney said, could include proof of a parent’s employment, but he also expressed concern about penalizing parents who choose to stay home to raise their children.
Romney argued that his proposal appealed to many Republicans and even some Democrats because it would also cover the costs of the child tax credit.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that permanently expanding the child tax credit would cost nearly $1.6 trillion over the next decade.
Romney’s proposal would make sweeping changes to the tax code, such as eliminating head of household status and the child care and dependent care tax credit, which is used to help offset the cost of childcare for working parents. It would also eliminate the state and local tax deduction, already a divisive issue among Democrats.
In addition, his proposal would eliminate Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, commonly referred to as social assistance, and make significant cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, known to many as food stamps.
Perspectives beyond the Senate
Romney’s plan is already getting a cold reception from lawyers and House Democrats.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., chair of the appropriations committee, said she opposes any form of work requirement and believes the current child tax credit is sufficient.
Work requirements may be “fine” for dual-income households, she said, but single parents in expensive cities could struggle to work and pay for childcare.
“The senator would force those parents to go to work,” DeLauro said of Romney, “even though it might be better for someone to stay home.”
Most advocates who spoke to NBC News expressed little interest in pursuing Romney’s plan.
Reverend Brigette Weier, pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City, said cutting social programs and adding work requirements would do little to capitalize on the positive effects the program expanded had on children.
“If we take away social programs, like SNAP, and tax deductions that help families, it ends up being a washout, at best. And it’s a deficit, at worst, for a lot of families,” Weier said, who worked in child care for decades before becoming a pastor.
Some advocates, however, said Romney deserves credit for keeping lawmakers focused on the issue, even if they don’t entirely agree with his position.
Dorian Warren, the president of Community Change, an advocacy group that favors expanding the child tax credit, praised Romney for bringing forward a proposal but said his approach of cutting social programs and adding of work requirements was wrong and not starting.
“I think it’s really great that Senator Romney is considering this. We need more Republicans and more bipartisan support for the child tax credit,” Warren said, noting that in the past, the Child Tax Credit was expanded in a bipartisan fashion without cutting other programs. or add work requirements.
Until a deal is struck, however, recipients of the monthly tax credit payments should remind themselves of the much-needed financial help.
Sara Klowonn, a mother of four adult children in Viborg, South Dakota, who has since adopted four foster children with her husband, said the payments gave her family the ability to buy their children a extra pair of jeans or to replace worn-out jeans. sneakers.
She said the extra money also meant she could spend more time with her children, rather than working extra shifts at the nursing home where she has a part-time job.
“A lot of people don’t want to admit they’re struggling to make ends meet, but it was a real gift,” Klowonn said. “You were able to sit with your kids and not fall asleep watching ‘Encanto’.”
CORRECTION (February 22, 2022, 4:15 PM ET) A previous version of this article misstated the name of the legislation to renew the Child Tax Credit. It’s the Family Security Act, not the Family Secure Act.