Washington – The bipartisan children’s advocacy group First Focus released three new papers today, offering concrete policy solutions aimed at addressing child poverty. One proposes an overhaul of federal antipoverty initiatives aimed at helping low-income families build wealth. The other two recommend a federal “child allowance” like those in place in other high-income countries. The papers are included in First Focus’s new publication, Big Ideas – Pioneering Change: Innovative Ideas for Children and Families, a compendium of more than a dozen papers addressing issues ranging from asthma management to intergenerational poverty.

“With child poverty rate double the poverty rate for seniors, Congress must act now,” said First Focus president Bruce Lesley. “If the question is what to do, here are some great answers.”

Ending Poverty Isn’t Enough, by Andrea Levere and Ezra Levin of the Corporation for Enterprise Development, argues that current federal economic security policies actually widen the economic gap between rich and poor. The authors observe that, for every dollar the federal government invests in the economic security of the bottom 80 percent of earners, it spends $2.50 subsidizing wealth creation for the upper 20 percent. Or, as the authors put it, “the government spends to help low-income families get by, while it spends to help high-income families get further ahead.” They propose a wholesale revision of federal antipoverty policy, anchored by four policy reforms:

  1. Create tax-preferred “child savings accounts” – modeled on successful pilot projects, to help children begin building wealth at birth;
  2. Exempt saving for children from federal benefits’ “asset tests” – so saving for a child children’s future doesn’t mean losing the ability to meet their present needs;
  3. Reform federal tax policy to create real economic opportunity – so the vast majority of tax incentives for savings and investment are aimed at and usable by low- and moderate-income families; and,
  4. Create savings vehicles that work – so all working families have a safe and affordable savings vehicle that effectively helps them build wealth

“We can’t win the war on poverty by spending most of our resources to help the rich get richer,” said Lesley.

The other two papers, Tackling Poverty Through the Implementation of a Child Allowance Program by blogger Matthew Bruenig, and Catching Up on the Cost of Raising Children by

Megan Curran of InclusionUS, propose a federal child allowance. The authors argue that a child allowance with monthly payments to help parents offset the costs of raising children would better meet families’ needs than today’s federal income support systems, which largely deliver assistance through annual tax filings. They observe that nations like the United Kingdom and Canada have made gains on child poverty by establishing child allowances. They cite features the U.S. can emulate, including near-universal eligibility to reduce social stigma and minimize confusion, simple eligibility requirements, and adjusting benefits as a family’s income changes.

“America has dramatically reduced poverty among seniors,” said Lesley. “Partners like Britain and Canada have shown that a child allowance can reduce child poverty, too – what we need is the political will to act.”

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First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit www.firstfocus.org.