A plan for a national paid family leave initiative spearheaded by first daughter and adviser to the president Ivanka Trump has started to gain traction, after a Senate committee hearing addressed the issue on July 11.
More and more senators have been working on bringing the idea to fruition, egged on by Trump, who has been working with both sides of the aisle to help build support for the plan.
At the hearing, held by the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy and hosted by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) both spoke.
“Millions of mothers, fathers, grandparents, and families across the country struggle with the reality of childbirth and infant care, while also working hard to put food on the table,” Ernst told the Senate floor. “It is long overdue that Congress should get serious … on a path forward.”
Gillibrand said: “We are the only industrial country in the world that doesn’t guarantee some type of family paid leave. Congress does need to catch up, we need a national paid leave program now.”
In an op-ed posted on the White House website on July 11, Trump responded to pundits who in 2016 called the plan “a striking departure from GOP orthodoxy.”
“Indeed it was,” Trump wrote. “But over the past 21 months, we have witnessed conservatives building a majority in support of this important policy.”
Historically, Democrats have been staunch supporters of paid family leave.
A similar bill that advocated for paid family leave, dubbed the Family Act, was co-sponsored by Gillibrand and introduced last year. Currently, the bill is awaiting congressional approval to make it a national program. However, Republicans appeared to be against it, with Trump stating that “both sides” were needed to create a better, more comprehensive plan.
Currently, under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which passed Congress in 1993, businesses that meet certain criteria are required to allow employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for “certain family and medical reasons.” But the United States has no paid leave system for new mothers.
“It is been 25 years since FMLA passed and we are still at zero weeks of paid leave. There has yet to be a plan presented w/ bipartisan support from lawmakers,” Trump wrote on Twitter on July 11. “Both sides need to come together on a solution that can garner the votes be signed in to law.”
In her op-ed, Trump pleaded for bipartisan support, saying, “Everyone shares the concern for our country’s plummeting fertility rates,” which she said were the lowest in history. A 2017 Pew Research study, found that 8 in 10 Americans supported paid leave for mothers following the birth or adoption of a child.
“If executed responsibly, paid family leave is targeted government action with the right incentives—designed to increase the independence, health and dignity of our citizens,” she wrote.
“It is an investment in the future of our workers, our families, and our country.”
Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) included a provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to incentivize businesses nationwide to offer workers up to 12 weeks of paid family leave. Trump called the business credit of up to 25 percent a “foundational step” in achieving a national plan.
“But a tax credit alone will not suffice,” she wrote. “Republicans are committed to developing a plan for working parents.”
Trump’s previous work with lawmakers has gained the support of key voices, including senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah). Rubio has been vocal about his support for paid family leave. In February, he started working with Trump on efforts to win over on-the-fence Republicans who fear the traditionally Democratic issue would be a costly burden to the government.
Rubio is expected to introduce legislation this week that would allow parents to draw from their Social Security benefits early, in what he calls a “conservative solution” for paid family leave. In a video released on June 14, Rubio said passing paid family leave is a priority.
While details of the bill have not been released yet, an aide to Rubio told the Washinton Examiner that it could be similar to an idea from the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, in which “the provision to draw from Social Security would be available to each spouse for up to 12 weeks, for a total of 24 weeks, for each child who has been born or adopted.” Parents would have to defer their retirement benefits for the time necessary to offset the cost of their parental benefits in return.
Trump aims to pass a bill that would support a six-week parental leave program linked to unemployment insurance. That proposal has been backed by the president with $25 billion in his 2018 budget proposal and $19 billion in his 2019 budget proposal.