Frontline: Poor Kids (2017) on YouTube

One of the most heartbreaking PBS Frontline documentaries I've ever seen is "Poor Kids," initially shown in 2012 and updated for a 2017 rebroadcast, which you can view on YouTube or at the PBS website. It's a matter-of-fact look at the lives of kids in poverty, and how not having enough money weighs on nearly every aspect of their lives, down to having to give up a pet and put your Christmas videogame console in storage because neither is allowed in a homeless shelter. (This is where the sharp-eyed Republican viewer crows, "Aha! If mom hadn't splurged on that toy when she still had a job, she could have paid for half a month's rent after she lost it!") If you're not a sociopath, the film leaves you wondering just what the hell is wrong with this country.

One thing that's wrong with this country, in addition to its bullshit myth of self-reliance, is that it has one of the worst rates of child poverty in the developed world. But there's something we could do about that. We could give money to low-income parents with kids, a shocking idea that many other rich countries in the world have enacted, but which the USA has resisted because isn't that socialism? But suddenly, in the recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic, there's now renewed interest in establishing a system of benefits for virtually all parents who aren't already wealthy. Joe Biden has a one-year expansion of child tax credits in his pandemic plan, which several Dems in Congress would like to make permanent.

And in one of the weirdest political evolutions we can think of, Sen Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who in 2012 railed against "free stuff" and condemned the lazy 47 percent of Americans who supposedly "believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it," has proposed a monthly child allowance that would give parents monthly cash payments to help them keep their kids fed and housed. Yes, that Mitt Romney.


Romney's proposed "Family Security Act" would provide monthly payments to virtually all American families, as long as they're not already well-off (the benefits would cut off at income levels of $200,000 per individual, or $400,000 for couples). As Eric Levitz at New York magazine argues, it would be "the most generous cash-welfare program in modern U.S. history." Romney's plan would provide all non-rich families with

$350 a month for every child they are raising who is younger than 5 years old, and $250 a month for every child between the ages of 6 and 17, up to a maximum of $1,250 a month. In addition to these benefits, new parents would collect a $1,400 payment just before their child's birth.

Put differently: If Romney's bill passes, then the parents of a child born next year will receive $62,600 in child support from Uncle Sam by the time that kid turns 18.

Contacted by time machine, 2012 Mitt Romney said he appreciated a joke as much as anyone, but could we please leave him alone because he had to blame Barack Obama for shuttering factories that closed during the Bush administration.

But as we say, Romney's plan is actually ridiculously good! And as Levitz notes, it would do something entirely new from the last 25 years of anti-poverty programs:

Romney's plan would not give less help to the very poorest children in America, so as to punish their parents for not working. And unlike the refundable child tax credit, the benefits in Romney's plan aren't delivered in a lump-sum rebate to the subset of low-income families who properly file for it, but rather, to all non-affluent parents in monthly installments, administered by the Social Security Administration.

That means that virtually every family eligible for the benefit would receive it, unlike with the existing child tax credit, which 22 percent of eligible people don't actually receive.

Levitz notes that yes, Romney wants to pay for his child allowance by eliminating other parts of the safety net, like eliminating or modifying some existing tax benefits for low-income folks, and by doing away with federal funding for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). That last one, especially, has made the proposal a non-starter for many Democrats. But Levitz also notes that Romney's plan would substantially replace the programs he cuts. And while eliminating TANF sounds like anathema for libs, Levitz points out that it was already gutted by Bill Clinton's "welfare reform," so the tradeoff for a near-universal benefit for families with kids might be worth it.

Or for that matter, he suggests, Joe Biden and Democrats could "just take the good parts of the Utah senator's proposal, and ditch its imperfect funding mechanism," paying for the child allowance by rolling back parts of the 2017 Trump tax cuts. VIOLA! Cue the string quartet, because you just made a benefit that would lift millions out of poverty, reduce child poverty by a third, and which could be passed through the budget reconciliation process, to boot. Wouldn't it be a hoot if two of the 21st century's most socially progressive policies — the ACA and a child allowance — came from a Utah conservative?

Not surprisingly, Levitz says, Republicans already hate Romney's plan because it doesn't punish children for having parents who can't get jobs:

[The] two GOP senators most sympathetic to a child tax credit expansion, Mike Lee and Marco Rubio, both decried Romney's proposal as "welfare assistance" that would undercut "the responsibility of parents to work to provide for their families." In other words: While the senators are supportive of a large increase in government aid to children, they will only do so if the policy provides little to no aid to the very poorest kids in the country, so as to teach their parents a hard lesson about the importance of work.

The idea that keeping kids in poverty would motivate parents to find work (assuming there is any to be found) is, Levitz says, "a dumb and malicious bit of dogma" that's belied by the experience of other nations that already have a universal child allowance. None of them, he points out, "have suffered an economically devastating surge in voluntary unemployment as a result." And since even in periods of "full employment," there's always a percentage of job seekers who can't find work (yay, capitalism), making the child allowance dependent on their parents having a job is "an act of mindless cruelty." Mindless cruelty, as we already know, has been a plank of the GOP platform since Barry Goldwater's run in 1964.

Well hell, we're convinced. If the American Enterprise Institute thinks it's a terrible idea, then it must be good.

Take the money from the Big Fat Tax Cut for Rich Fuckwads, and let's see what kind of documentary about the kids of 2027 PBS can make. We're betting it would be a much happier movie.

[PBS Frontline on YouTube / Frontline (2012) / New York / Family Security Act overview]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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