President Trump portrays himself as an expert at marketing designer ties and gourmet steaks, but now, as chief executive of federal social policy, his new childcare plan might be a tougher sell. The promise he has made of universal childcare, accompanied by a marketing campaign led by his glamorous career-woman daughter Ivanka, sounded family-friendly enough on the campaign trail. But to childcare advocates, the vague talking points he laid out in his first speech to Congress last month don’t add up for working poor parents.
According to the broad outlines of the plan reported so far, Trump wants to fund childcare through the tax code with a package of cuts and deductions. This would skew benefits toward well-off married couples, while offering the poorest parents perhaps just a few dollars a month.
Tolanda Barnette, a teacher and single mom in North Carolina, can’t make Trump’s math work for families like hers. As she supports five children, ranging from 6 years old to college-aged, she has never earned enough to afford a decent program in her area.
“It only benefits those of the wealthy [incomes] so it doesn’t benefit the people at the bottom,” she says of Trump’s plan. And as a daycare educator herself, earning just $12 an hour, she knows all too well how it feels to be excluded from the services every family needs.
She had to leave work to care for her young son for his first five years, as he got stuck on a waiting list for a childcare voucher: “Being a childcare provider…who knows the extent of what a voucher can do for you as a whole, it sucked,” she recalls. So she stayed home to care for her family because her wages couldn’t cover basic needs. “I would be working to pay daycare, then I wouldn’t be able to pay bills.”
Critics warn that Trump’s limited benefit scheme would only further polarize privileged and working-poor families, who in many cases are already priced out of care altogether. The Tax Policy Center calculates that, through the combination of credits and deductions Trump is promoting, “About 70 percent of benefits go to families with at least $100,000 and 25 percent of benefits go to families with at least $200,000.”