Time to extend the Child Tax Credit to include the unborn

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Working families are the unsung heroes of the American economy. Entrepreneurs justifiably get a great deal of attention, but strong families and their children are vital to the long-term economic health of any society.

The Child Tax Credit (CTC), a bipartisan initiative that has been around for twenty years, recognizes this reality. It can be a godsend to families struggling to make ends meet. According to one estimate, last year alone it lifted almost three million Americans out of poverty — half of them children — and alleviated poverty for twelve million more. For these good reasons, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Senator Mike Lee (R-Ariz.) have advocated forcefully for expanding the CTC.

It’s no wonder increasing the CTC is the most popular plank of Republicans’ tax reform proposal among voters, but Congress can do even more. Senator James Lankford (R-OK) this week floated a compelling idea: expand the CTC to include unborn children. “We have a child tax credit for after they’re born. Anyone who has had a child can tell you that year leading up to it is a pretty costly year,” Lankford said.

The House proposal already extends families the option to open 529 educational savings accounts for children before birth, a welcome change. Extending the CTC in the same way would start the clock several months earlier for families to be eligible to qualify for the credit and make the bill consistent across the board.

While providing benefits for unborn children would be new to the federal tax code, it is not without precedent in other areas of the law. The definition of unborn child in the House bill is identical to that used in the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, or “Laci and Conner’s Law,” the 2004 statute that recognizes unborn children as victims when they are injured or killed during the commission of a federal crime.

Recognizing and embracing unborn children as the family members they are, in the tax code as in other federal laws, is just common sense. It doesn’t suddenly occur to parents to begin planning for the future once they reach the delivery room. They talk about their child and to their child. They wonder about everything from what they are going to name the baby, what they should eat or avoid eating and what furniture they will need, to what kind of person their child will grow up to be, where she will go to school or who his friends will be.

More than a few of them wonder, with trepidation, “How in the world am I going to do this?”

The number of families struggling is clearly not negligible. The rate of Americans working multiple jobs is trending upward for the first time in a decade. That translates to more stress and less time to spend with the kids. Nearly a quarter of American children are living with a single parent, usually their mother and these families are twice as likely to be poor as the average American.

Then there is the rising cost of child care. Many working families are spending more than ten percent of their income on basic services like day care or babysitters, at a cost of hundreds of dollars a week. Child care can cost as much as a decent used car or as much as a year of in-state tuition at a public college.

This isn’t what a thriving economy or a healthy, happy populace looks like. Working families need to know Congress recognizes their value. The CTC offers significant relief from their federal income tax burdens. It helps them feed, clothe, educate, and simply be more present for their kids, especially during the earliest years when stress and instability can be the most detrimental and impact children for life.

Raising and expanding the CTC is something concrete Republicans can do to help countless Americans and give the economy a shot in the arm. Pro-life Republicans especially should get behind expanding the CTC to cover unborn babies. If they are infuriated by accusations that pro-lifers only care about people until they are born, here’s an excellent opportunity to prove that’s blatantly false. We should all be looking for ways to support families in making courageous, life-affirming choices.

These days there are vanishingly few government policies that are a win for everyone and that partisans across the spectrum should agree are worthy. Expanding the CTC is one of them, and we strongly encourage Congress to commit to making it happen now.

Marjorie Dannenfelser is the president of the Susan B. Anthony List.

Tags Adoption credit James Lankford Marco Rubio Mike Lee

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