Letter: Investing in families should be a top priority for Minnesota legislators
Ryan Hamilton of the Minnesota Catholic Conference encourages legislators to establish a state child tax credit.
Some of Minnesota’s elected leaders have pledged to create the most child-friendly state budget in the nation. To accomplish this goal, our Legislature must prioritize needs over wants—just like every hardworking Minnesota family. And the first thing Minnesota families with dependent children need is a state child tax credit (CTC).
Taking care of first things first
To sustain a flourishing state, our Legislature must prioritize the well-being of Minnesota’s most critical infrastructure— its families. When families budget, they start with the essentials, look to their children’s needs, and then try to get top value for every dollar. Families are frequently required to make difficult choices to sustain their households. Our lawmakers should follow suit.
Investing in families should be a top priority because many, if not most, of the social problems that state government spends money to address arise from the breakdowns in the family unit. Families are the most important contributors to society. The family plays a unique role as the first economic unit, the first classroom, and the first community that each of us experience.
Yet, mounting economic stress on the family has led to declining rates of marriage and childbearing, as well as family fragmentation and rising substance abuse. Although promoting greater economic security is not a silver bullet to cure what ails society, it is certainly an important start. Healthy families lead to healthier children who develop into more responsible adults.
Flexibility is what families need
Minnesota has the fiscal resources to elevate itself as the best state in the nation to raise children and be a child; the only remaining ingredient is political will. Dedicating around $1.25 billion dollars annually towards a new, fully refundable Minnesota CTC should be an easy “aye” vote, especially when one considers that the next biennial state budget is projected to be nearly $54 billion dollars. Health and Human Services expenditures are projected to account for 33% of that budget, while E-12 Education will comprise nearly 40%. Surely, we can make an annual commitment of about 4% of the biennial budget to properly provision the families who are doing the irreplaceable work of nurturing the next generation of thinkers, artisans and caregivers.
Gov. Walz rightly kickstarted the conversation by introducing a CTC in his budget proposal. However, the structure would not offer the dual benefit of poverty reduction and middle-class relief. A tandem proposal to expand the existing Dependent Care Credit would only benefit families who pay for outside daycare. Lawmakers should note that outside childcare is not the preferred lifestyle choice for most families. A 2021 nationwide survey found that married mothers prefer to have one full-time earner and one stay-at-home parent while raising children under the age of five. That same survey revealed that a full-time, stay-at-home parent is the most popular arrangement across lower, working-, and middle-class parents.
Fiscal modeling shows how a Minnesota CTC could be structured to provide middle-class economic relief while simultaneously reducing child poverty by 25%. Ideally, the new Minnesota CTC would follow the mold of H.F. 1369 (Kotyza-Witthuhn)/S.F. 1754 (Pratt) by setting income thresholds high enough to benefit children of first responders, children of teachers, children of nurses, and children of tradespeople.
Every child is unique, which means that every family’s needs are unique. A policy that truly supports families will give them the flexibility to meet those unique needs. Therefore, for the remainder of the 2023 legislative session, Minnesota lawmakers should center their work on the following question—will this budget proposal directly, prudently, and inclusively support the irreplaceable contribution that families make to our state?
Ryan Hamilton is the government relations associate for the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota.
This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.