At AEI, Romney Continues to Push For Retooled Family Plan
The mantra from Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) about his recently proposed Family Security Act 2.0: “We are not an anti-poverty movement, we’re a pro-family movement.” The act, titled “A New National Commitment to Working American Families,” was crafted by Senators Romney (R-Utah), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) with the goal of “reduc[ing] the scope of the federal government by streamlining multiple complex federal programs into one easy-to-navigate policy for working families.”
The act was the focus of Romney’s appearance at the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday, where he stressed that the decline of families is one of the greatest challenges facing our country today; marriage rates in the United States are at all-time lows and birth rates have dropped 20% since 2007. Romney believes current laws unintentionally discourage marriage and having a family unit, and that is exemplified in low-income communities. For example, a woman with children is less likely to qualify for benefits if she is married and has a larger income, therefore incentivizing the woman to remain single. Further, Romney cited a growing gap between how many children people ideally want versus how many they actually have because of financial limitations. He wants the government to bridge that gap.
Under the proposed Family Security Act 2.0, working families would receive a fully paid-for, monthly cash benefit amount up to $350 a month for each young child (starting mid-pregnancy), and $250 a month for each school-aged child. A family must have earned $10,000 in the prior year to receive the full benefit and families earning less than $10,000 will receive a benefit proportional to their earnings. The policy is described as “pro-family, pro-life, and pro-work benefit.” The policy is pro-family in that people are incentivized to get married to reach the $10,000 minimum for full benefit, pro-life in that people will feel more financially able to support children and not need abortions for fear of financial reasons, and pro-work in that people are incentivized to reach the minimum.
The senator insisted that it be a fully funded program. Romney explained the funding proposal: “We take two current programs and either change them or collapse them entirely. So, the Child Tax Credit we collapse and use it to fund this program, and the family portion of the Earned Income Tax Credit likewise is suggested to pay for this plan, about $160 billion of the total funding comes from those programs,” Romney said. “We get rid of programs, and instead fund something that works better, that’s simpler, that’s easier to administer, easier to understand, comes to people at a time that they need it, and so a very substantial improvement of what we have.”
He added, “I know that the more progressive of my friends aren’t going to like this, because the more progressive of my friends, anytime there’s a need, instead of saying ‘what programs do we currently have that we could eliminate or adjust, and allow them to pay for a better program’ — instead, their thought is let’s just create a new one, and add more money to all of them…[right now] it’s a mind-numbing list of programs for a pregnant mom to navigate and expensive for the government.”
In a panel following Romney’s remarks, AEI President Robert Doar pointed out that the people can reap a financial benefit if you are making up to $200k if you are a single parent, and up to $400k if you are married, and asked why the cap was so high. The senator responded that the act is designed to be a family program, not an antipoverty program, and that he wants to help low and middle-income families. He expects Democrats to fight this, saying “they [Democrats] just want to help the poor.”
Doar followed up by asking if the act was a work disincentive. Romney insisted that the benefit should not be viewed as income, but as a benefit, and that the $10,000 marker would avoid discouraging work. He also noted that Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.V.) objections on encouraging work was one of the reasons his proposed legislation changed from version 1.0 to 2.0.
Lastly, Doar asked if Romney was concerned as a conservative to create a new social program based in Washington instead of keeping it more local, and if people would be less inclined to seek out local services (such as for substance abuse, domestic violence, etc.) if they already received federal checks in the mail. Romney responded that the first version of the act eliminated Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), but after receiving feedback that TANF was effective at the local level in some states, the 2.0 version of the act leaves it in. Romney also noted that a “massive amount of COVID relief funds were fraudulently mis-administered by states,” and he was pleased that checks would be funneled through the federal level.
In order to move forward, the act will need bipartisan support, and the senator expects to accept amendments to do so. He is already working with Democrats and is open to negotiating: “I met with him [Sen. Manchin] and I met with a number of Democrats by the way,” Romney said. ”I have been working with a bunch of Democrats, quietly, behind the scenes.”
In concluding his speech, Romney said “It [the act] sends a very strong message that we care about families, we care about helping people to decide to have a family…I hope that it can become, if you will, a bit of a rallying cry for those of us on the right, and hopefully for our friends on the left as well to say ‘hey let’s rethink how we’re doing things and see if we can do a better job for the American family’ ”