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US considers $300 monthly child benefit


US considers $300 monthly child benefit
Anti-poverty advocates in the United States have pushed for a monthly benefit for years. (BBC)

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Washington – The United States is considering introducing a monthly child benefit for the first time, a seismic shift for the country that has some of the highest rates of child poverty in the developed world.

Democrats are hoping to include the measure – which could pay up to $300 (£217.50) per month per child – as part of a larger coronavirus (COVID-19) spending package.

President Joe Biden’s spokeswoman this week repeated that the current plans are focused on “emergency funding” rather than a more permanent shift.

But anti-poverty advocates, who have pushed for a monthly benefit for years, hope inserting such a programme temporarily will lay the groundwork for more lasting change.

“It is an emergency and not a temporary one,” says Michelle Dallafior, senior vice president for budget and tax at First Focus on Children, a children’s advocacy group in Washington.

“Child poverty in this country has been persistently high and once we get a programme into place and iron out those wrinkles, then we’re going to keep pushing to make sure that it is permanent.”

What’s wrong with the current system?

Most developed countries, including the United Kingdom, have for decades offered some form of monthly child allowance to offset the costs of having children.

But the US, where fears that social welfare programmes discourage work have a long political history, relies on an annual tax credit to offset those expenses.

Introduced in 1997, it’s currently worth up to $2 000 per child, But how much money a family gets depends on how much a family makes – and therefore owes in tax – a design that critics say leaves out those who need it most.

Research has found that roughly a third of children – who are disproportionately poor, black or Hispanic – do not receive the full benefit. About ten per cent are completely ineligible – the vast majority because their families earn less than $2 500 a year.

“There’s just a lot of kids that don’t get the credit,” says Katherine Michelmore, a professor of public administration and international affairs at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School, who has studied the issue. (BBC)