Will the United States look to Poland’s “Family 500+” Program to solve family financial challenges?
On February 25, the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee held a hearing to explore how to improve the stability and welfare of families in the United States, with consideration to follow Poland’s Family 500+ program as an example to boost economic stability among families. Dr. Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project and Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia, recommended that the United States implement a program similar to Family 500+ as a method to assist families in reducing financial stresses and to cover the expenses of raising young children.
The Family 500+ program was established in 2015 by Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS), providing a monthly allowance of 500 PLN (approximately $127 in U.S. dollars) for every child after the first that was under 18, however, it was later extended to cover all children under 18. In total, more than 50 percent of all children were eligible to be covered by the program, with the Polish government spending 21 billion PLN (approximately $5 billion U.S. dollars) for 3.82 million individuals.
This program was implemented due to Poland’s low fertility rates: studies show that Poland had 1.32 children per woman (2015), the second-lowest in Europe. Although data from Poland’s Central Statistics Office (GUS) display that there was a 13-16 percent increase in births in December 2016, the program was more effective in its economic benefits. The child allowance enabled families to utilize this money for healthcare, food, clothing, education, and additional expenses, providing families with the support to have more children, reduce child poverty and improve the living conditions of larger families. The economy similarly saw higher consumption, saving, and employment rates, with the debt levels and the country’s budget deficit decreasing. Family 500+ currently serves as a model for multiple European countries that similarly face declining birth rates due to financial challenges. Lithuania, Hungary, and Serbia each adopted strategies that rewarded couples for having children through tax breaks, “child money” and housing loans, providing more opportunities for child welfare.
The United States Congress Joint Economic Committee held a hearing titled, “Improving Family Stability for the Wellbeing of American Children” to discuss solutions with fellows and experts regarding the decrease in child births and family financial stability. When analyzing progressive benefits and declining fertility, Dr. Wilcox of the University of Virginia explained, “there is some evidence that Poland has been somewhat successful in its program of paying PLN 500 to families for each child, a very targeted kind of child allowance. So, that would be kind of a model for us to think about here in the U.S., to sort of think about a child allowance that would give families choices about how best to spend their money on their kids to, you know, deal with rising costs.” In Dr. Wilcox’s written testimony, the professor proposes to expand the child tax credit in the United States, encouraging the committee to consider the credit to “be paid out on a monthly basis so as to give families additional month-to-month support in addressing the financial challenges of raising a family today”. He continues, “monthly tax credit would send a powerful signal to parents that the nation stands with them in their efforts to raise the next generation.” If Dr. Wilcox’s proposition is considered by Congress, the United States government will look to Poland to shape its policy surrounding child welfare and stability to increase the number of child births and bring economic benefits to families across the country.
Kamila Magiera is a Communications Intern at the Polish American Congress and a freshman at the George Washington University. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s in Business Administration with a minor in International Affairs.