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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Florida News

Universal Child Allowance: What's That?

TALLAHASSEE, FL - Delegates from 40 industrialized nations will gather in Iceland this month to discuss the status of family and children's social programs. Of those countries, 39 provide a universal child allowance and paid family leave as part of a comprehensive list of social services. Only the United States does not. 

Professor Sheila Kamerman, co-director of Columbia University's Institute for Child and Family Policy, is the U.S. delegate to the conference. She says other modern societies have a dim view of how America treats its kids.

Link: Child Benefits in the European Union

"They think of it as U.S. exceptionalism, as being absurd, and anti-children, anti-child-well-being."

For more than 50 years, every child in the European Union has received a government allowance. Today, it amounts to about 200 dollars a month, no matter the family's income. U.S. leaders point out that America is slowly catching up in terms of social services, but that current political winds are blowing in the wrong direction for more sweeping change.

Jim Akin, a Florida social services expert who is spokesman for the child welfare division, Florida Dept. of Families and Children, says handing out a monthly check to every child would probably just not work in this country.

"That would be a hard thing to sell in this environment - you know, the political environment in this country - simply because people would say, you know, 'Parents have children, they should take care of 'em. It's not the government's responsibility to pay.'"

The Florida Legislature has also rejected $50 million in federal "Healthy Kids" funds because a majority of state lawmakers believe the Affordable Care Act, the law that allocates the funds, is unconstitutional.

The other social service that European citizens enjoy is paid family leave, time off from work when children are born, for example. Sheila Kamerman says the average paid time off is a year, for both mothers and fathers.

"Essentially, at the present time now, a year at 80 percent of prior wages paid, another three months that has to do with their basic health insurance benefit, and then another three months that's unpaid, so it's an 18-month leave, fully paid for one year."

American families have some protection under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Workers who have been on the job full time for at least a year at a company with 50 or more employees, are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under certain circumstances.

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