WASHINGTON- U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday will propose a package of new initiatives aimed at helping middle-class families, including an expanded child-care tax credit and help with retirement savings.
The initiatives come as Obama is taking a more populist turn in his rhetoric, pledging to fight for the middle class and taking a tougher line toward Wall Street.
A year into his presidency, Obama and his Democratic Party are seeing an erosion of his support among middle-class Americans who swept him into office.
Frustration with the 10 percent unemployment rate and wariness toward Obama's plans to change the healthcare system helped set the stage for a shocking loss by Democrats last week in a Massachusetts Senate race.
At around noon EST (1700 GMT), the president will outline the child-care credit and other measures that will also be discussed in his State of the Union speech. Obama will address Congress and the nation at 9:00 p.m. on Wednesday (0200 GMT on Thursday) in a speech designed to lay out the challenges and set the tone for his administration in 2010.
A White House official said the State of the Union speech themes would include creating good jobs, addressing the deficit, changing Washington, and fighting for middle class families.
The measures were developed by the White House Task Force on Middle Class Families, which is led by Vice President Joseph Biden.
There are immediate steps we can take to reduce the strain on family budgets by helping middle class families manage their child and elder care responsibilities, save for retirement, and pay for college, the White House said in a statement.
The proposals would:
* Require companies that do not offer retirement plans to enroll their employees in direct-deposit retirement accounts unless the workers opt out.
* Increase the Savers Credit, a tax credit for retirement savings, for families making up to $85,000.
* Change some of the rules for 401K employer-sponsored savings accounts to make them more transparent.
* Increase the child tax credit rate to 35 percent of qualifying expenses from the current 20 percent for families making under $85,000 a year. Families making up to $115,000 would be eligible for some increase in the tax credit.
* Increase child care funding by $1.6 billion in 2011 to serve an additional 235,000 children.
* Boost government spending by $102.5 million for programs aimed at helping families who provide home care for an aging relative.
* Ease the burden for student loans by limiting a borrower's payments to 10 percent of his or her income above a basic living allowance.
(Reporting by Caren Bohan; Editing by Vicki Allen)