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Institute Outlines 'Progressive' Policy for Families

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Washington--Arguing that both liberals and conservatives have failed to offer viable solutions to strengthen the family, a Washington-based policy center has called for changes in the federal tax code and reforms in divorce laws, the foster-care system, and the workplace to ease family stress.

The Progressive Policy Institute--a nonprofit organization launched a year and a half ago to fashion a public policy that "transcends the limits of the conventional, left-right debate"--argues in a new report that policies of recent decades have posed economic, educational, and emotional barriers to families with children.

In addressing family issues, the group contends, conservatives have focused too little on economic pressures families face; liberals, meanwhile, have downplayed the importance of family values, it says.

The report, "Putting Families First: A Progressive Family Policy for the 1990's," criticizes conservatives' "largely rhetorical" support for family issues and President Bush's "misguided veto" of legislation requiring firms to grant workers leave to care for family members.

Conversely, it says, "liberals' unwillingess to acknowledge that intact two-parent families are the most effective units for raising children has led them into a series of policy cul-de-sacs" and "bureaucratic" solutions.

The report cites research to support the view that intact families are better for children, and it offers several proposals to ease the stresses that cause family breakups and to aid parents and children affected by them.

Tax-Policy Changes Urged

On the subject of tax policy, the report recommends:

Raising the personal income-tax exemption for dependents of low- and middle-income families from $2,000 per child to from $6,000 to $7,500--an increase the group contends would restore the exemption to its 1948 level in real dollars.

To cut costs and to focus on the age group most in need of child care, the group advises offering the increased exemption at first only for children under age 4.

Changing the tax-filing status for single-parent families and cutting payroll-tax rates.

Expanding the earned-income tax credit and linking it to the number of children in the home to provide a "guaranteed working wage" for families currently earning too little to benefit from tax breaks.

Citing research from studies highlighting the negative effects of divorce on children, the group recommends restricting the use of "no fault" divorce laws for couples with chil8dren, federalizing the child-support system, and figuring "the cost of motherhood to women's earning capacity" into child-support costs. It also advises a "braking mechanism" that would set a mandatory waiting period for parents considering divorce.

Noting that the foster-care system is "plagued by multiple placements that inflict grave damage on children," the group also advocates intensive, home-based services for troubled families with the goal of preserving the family unit.

Finally, the report urges employers to offer "family friendly" workplaces by helping workers find child care and by establishing policies and schedules that make it easier for parents to care for children, consult teachers, and work at home.

Copies of the report are available free to city, state, and federal government employees and for $3.25 each to others from the Progressive Policy Institute, 316 Pennsylvania Ave., S.E., Suite 555, Washington, D.C. 20003.

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