First Daughter Ivanka Trump might not hold an official position in her father’s administration, but she’s nonetheless emerged as the internal presence guiding a proposal for policy solutions addressing affordable child care and paid family leave. The eldest Trump daughter reportedly met with members of Congress last week to discuss her policy plan, which is anchored around a sizable child care tax credit.
And while speculation has already begun that Ivanka Trump’s proposal will be met with resistance on the Hill because of its accompanying $500 billion price tag, policy experts are voicing concern that the Trump plan isn’t just expensive, but not wholly effective in impacting the bottom-line costs incurred by the average American family.
“Families across the income spectrum are struggling with finding high quality, affordable childcare,” Taryn Morrissey, PhD, and an assistant professor in the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C., tells Yahoo Beauty. Morrissey is also one of the co-authors of Cradle to Kindergarten: A New Plan to Combat Inequality, which provides a deep analysis of what is needed to create American early childhood policies that can improve competitiveness in the global economy.
And one thing the research in Cradle to Kindergarten underscores is that the Trump childcare plan does little to expand access to opportunity.
As Morrissey explains, practically all American families are presently reckoning with the reality of a lack of high-quality childcare options — and for young children in particular — and the staggeringly high cost of childcare.
“For low-income families, those earning less than $50,000 a year, they can easily spend half of their entire income on childcare,” Morrissey notes. She explains there are added challenges faced by middle- and low-income families — too often forced to deal with the reality of low- or mediocre-quality childcare settings that still come at a too high price. In turn, these options result in lost opportunities for early learning that come with higher quality, and more expensive settings.
Which is why the Trump plan is problematic.
“It might look a little different in its final stages, but the Trump plan we heard on the campaign trail largely focused on deducting childcare expenses from taxes. And that’s great for higher income families who have a tax liability and tax deductions — like Trump himself presumably does,” Morrissey says. “But for those who can’t afford to spend a lot on childcare, for those who are low-income and middle-income who don’t have a lot of childcare expenses because they can’t afford high-quality childcare setting, they can’t deduct that much because their expenses are lower. And for families that already have low taxes because their income level is low, this kind of plan offers no real help. It just doesn’t benefit families who need the help.”
Rachel Greszler, a Senior Policy Analyst at the conservative public policy think tank the Heritage Foundation, agrees in many ways. While Greszler says the Trump plan brings potential for “huge savings,” she also notes that the limitation of such a policy is the way it fails to significantly impact low-income families who already pay limited taxes.
And yet, she adds, “Because this is such a potentially huge deduction for families, my preference would be to see lower taxes overall. If we [implement significant tax deductions around childcare], our tax revenue still needs to stay the same. I’d rather see marginal rates come down for everyone so that families can make more money and better pay for childcare versus certain people getting a certain tax break.”
Greszler continues, “If you have deductions and favor a certain kind of spending, the point is that you want families to be able to afford childcare — but we will see more growth in just lowering taxes overall and the government not favoring a certain kind of spending,” like on childcare costs. And, she notes, “If implemented, this credit could be available for after-school activities, camp costs — when the government subsidizes things, it drives up costs. This plan won’t provide a dollar-for-dollar level of relief.”
Adds Morrissey, “Spending through the tax code is somewhat of a typical Republican policy. Tax deductions are quite familiar to higher income people, but these policies don’t show an understanding of the realities of low-income families’ lives that require more nuance. I think it’s great that the current president gave attention to this issue and spoke about this issue on the campaign trail, but this plan is really flawed.”
And it’s not just the tax deductions that Morrissey finds problematic about the Trump proposal. She also points to the maternity leave plan — that’s for maternity leave only, and not one for parental or family leave more broadly.
“This ignores the role that fathers and other parents play in the lives of children,” says Morrissey. “Getting dads involved from day one benefits fathers and children both — we see increased test scores, increased caregiving, and happier dads.”
Not only does a maternity leave-only policy stand to potentially leave out adoptive parents and same-sex parents, but, Morrissey says, it also disincentives companies to hire women of childbearing age since you know that it is only those employees who will be able to utilize this benefit. And offering just six weeks of partially paid time off is “inadequate” when it comes to both parent-child bonding and to the physical recover of women after childbirth.
Yet Graszler sees the maternity leave-only policy as a good start, mainly because the proposal is not tied to an employer mandate that could put additional costs on employers.
She adds, “You don’t want to create so generous a system that companies get rid of policies that already exists. Ideally, you already have companies who provide employees with some form of paid family leave — and you don’t want employers to drop those policies if they can drop them because they can pass them off to
“I think just like his healthcare plan, we’re seeing an increase of resources going to the wealthy and a decrease of resources going to low- and middle-income families. This plan would exacerbate income inequality rather than help reduce income inequality,” Morrissey says.
So what would policies that would help more middle- and low-income families actually look like?
Morrissey says they key is to help families before they reach the point of school entry in kindergarten. She and her co-authors propose up to 16 weeks of partially paid parental leave for all of those with work history (including the self-employed and those at smaller companies traditionally excluded from the Family and Medical Leave Act), having guaranteed childcare for parents returning to the workforce after the arrival of a child and an income-based subsidy that allows families to choose high-quality care and educational settings, and extending universal pre-K to children starting at the age of three.
“We know that income-based disparities are present well before kids walk into kindergarten. By starting at age three and intervening earlier, that means two years of high-quality, evidence-based curriculums for children before they enter kindergarten, which can really benefit kids and low-income kids especially,” Morrissey explains.
She continues, “Only be increasing quality can we promote children’s outcomes, and only by paying teachers more and increasing the supply of quality childcare workers can we make quality childcare more accessible and affordable. We need to allow parents time off from work so they know they can be financially secure as opposed to having to take unpaid leave or lose their job because they need leave to care for their families. It’s all intertwined. We need to totally reframe the whole focus of the birth through age five period in our country.”
So although it’s encouraging to see Trump start the conversation, it seems that his anticipated proposal stands to reinforce the current frame, instead of breaking it open to allow in more American families.
Related: What If Companies Only Did Business With Other Companies That Offer Paid Family Leave?
How Much Will Families Pay for Childcare Under Clinton vs. Trump?
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