Three Things to Look Out for in the American Families Act | Opinion

The media are hyping President Joe Biden's soon-to-be-unveiled American Families Plan as a surefire way to not only solve the problems of stressed-out working moms and dads, but also to usher in a permanently booming economy.

Sound too good to be true? That's because it probably is. But to really evaluate this plan, we need a lot more detail. Here are a few big issues Americans—and especially working parents—should ask about before jumping on the bandwagon in support of Biden's plan.

Childcare Spending: Biden's plan promises to spend $1 trillion, $225 billion of which is tagged for "child care." But what does this mean exactly? Is that spending just going to be layered on top of existing grants to states in support of their existing child care programs?

This is an important question because the type of child care facilities that most parents want is not the kind of child care facilities that governments tend to fund. Most parents prefer family or home-based day care centers. Unfortunately, across the country the number of home-based day care providers has been declining. In fact, the number of licensed home-based family child care providers fell by about 50 percent, from nearly 200,000 in 2005 to 100,000 in 2017.

Particularly in the COVID-19 era, parents have reason to think that smaller facilities (which put children and families in contact with fewer people) are preferable to large facilities that serve hundreds of kids.

Governments tend to subsidize larger, institutional child care centers instead, making it harder for home-based child care centers to compete and survive, and leaving some families with inferior options. Policymakers would be wise to examine the unnecessary red tape that can be removed for would-be family day care centers, before they throw billions more at the industry. Instead of giving this money to governments to create or subsidize facilities that parents may not really want or need, why not give parents those resources directly so they have more capacity to engage child care help, whatever form that may take?

Universal Pre-K: Parents have just endured a year-plus of disappointment from public schools, many of which refused to provide in-person instruction and care. While private schools generally fought to stay open to serve their students and families, public schools fought to keep their doors closed and their teachers—even those that had vaccine access—working online as long as possible. That helped drive millions of women out of the workforce, and undoubtedly millions more towards mental health crises.

Joe Biden
U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden walk to Marine One on the Ellipse near the White House on April 29, 2021 in Washington, DC. President Biden and the first lady will spend the day in Georgia to commemorate the first 100 days in office and to visit former President Jimmy Carter. Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

Frustrated parents around the country want more options and control of their kids' education. They don't want to be forever at the mercy of public school systems that put their interests last—especially when, at the same time, the public school establishment seems more interested in indoctrination and virtue signaling than imparting necessary knowledge and life skills.

Will the universal pre-K program simply expand the existing public K-12 system that couldn't get it together during COVID and hasn't done a very good job teaching kids—particularly kids from low-income families—basic skills like reading, writing and mathematics even in the best of times? If so, why should we be excited about that?

Paid Family Leave: Americans overwhelmingly want something done to help workers who lack paid leave benefits. But how will this latest government paid leave proposal impact paid leave programs that already exist? After all, most full-time workers do have some paid leave benefits, including many packages that fully replace wages during sick leave and even parental leave. Thirty percent of workers live in states and jurisdictions that already collect taxes from them for a specific government paid leave program. Will Biden's program displace those ones?

Workers should be warned that a paid leave mandate or new entitlement program will mean lower wages—or higher tax payments—to compensate for the costs of additional paid time off. Women should be particularly concerned that paid leave mandates could make it harder for them to negotiate flexible work arrangements that could make the best sense for them. If the government requires that every workplace offer and administer a set benefits package, employers may find it necessary to standardize their employment relationships, rather than offering work-from-home opportunities and flex-time packages. Women are likely to find that what government considers a gift of flexibility isn't very flexible at all, but rather pushes us back into 9-to-5, one-size-fits-all work world.

Women should also take note that, while proponents of family leave point to European companies as models for the U.S. and nirvanas for women, women in Europe are less likely than American women to reach the upper echelons of private companies and face larger gender wage gaps.

There are other ways to support workers who need time off for work without transforming the work contract of every single working American. Would the Biden administration consider a more targeted approach?

These are just a few of the questions that need to be answered before parents can determine whether the American Families Plan will really help them, or if it is just more spending on something that sounds great, but doesn't live up to its name.

Carrie Lukas is the president of Independent Women's Forum (www.iwf.org).

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.