President Ronald Reagan once said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
Those words couldn’t ring truer today as President Biden recently introduced the American Families Plan, a $1.8 trillion proposal that would radically undermine American families instead of help them. It would leave families with less control over their lives while failing to solve real problems Americans face in child care, education, health care and welfare — problems the proposal alleges to address.
For years, I’ve spoken up about what I call the unintended consequences of liberals’ misguided compassion. Practically every big-government social program that liberals have instituted in America has ended up doing more harm to the people they’ve claimed they were trying to help. I know, because I lived that experience as a child, and I’ve witnessed it every day in Black communities in the six decades since. The American Families Plan fits into this category.
Let’s look at some of what the left says it wants to achieve and what the plan would actually do.
The left says the American Families Plan will help working families by providing government-subsidized child care.
What the plan would actually do is add costly regulations that won’t just drive up child-care costs but also limit the supply of care by making it harder for smaller and more flexible providers to operate. The most accessible and best child care used to be provided in churches, yet the government continues to regulate these wonderful places out of existence.
The left also says the president’s plan will provide free universal government-run preschool, which it claims will help children academically far into the future.
What the plan would actually do is spend $200 billion on “free” preschool, even though research shows that government preschool programs consistently fail to live up to their promises and actually can have negative consequences.
The left also says the American Families Plan will provide a greater safety net for America’s poorest citizens.
What the plan would actually do is discourage welfare recipients from looking for work, discourage marriage, and provide new, much bigger cash payments for families that don’t work at all.
As the old axiom goes, you get more of what you subsidize. Eliminating incentives for work and marriage would return us to the days when families on welfare were stuck in long-term poverty, when unwed teen births rose year after year, and when intergenerational poverty meant that 1 in 7 children were dependent on welfare.
If we really want to help families, the administration should abandon this plan and look to policies that actually support families. Eliminating marriage and work penalties in the welfare system, encouraging private sector flexibility in family leave and child care, and offering access to better private health plans are some good places to start.
Kay C. James is president of The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org). A longer version of this article appeared in the Washington Times.