An evangelical advocacy organization is supporting a push in Congress to ensure working families — in the government and private sector — are ensured paid parental and family leave as hope builds that bipartisan legislation will be passed this election year.
While the United States remains the only industrialized country to not guarantee workers paid family leave, there is optimism that 2020 could be the year that changes.
Only eight states and the District have paid family leave programs on their books.
But the increasingly bipartisan paid family leave movement got a small victory last year with the passing of a national defense spending bill that for the first time guaranteed most federal workers up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave for the birth, adoption or fostering of a child.
Since the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act does not cover all federal employees or nonfederal workers and also doesn’t provide other types of family leave such as when a family member is sick, advocates feel that improvements can be made.
While Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer introduced a bill to extend the FEPLA benefits to all federal workers, there are three other pieces of legislation looking to further guarantee paid parental leave for all other Americans.
The Center for Public Justice, a Christian nonpartisan research and civic education organization, released a policy brief examining each bill’s different approaches. All three proposals accommodate workers that don’t hold “full-time salaried jobs” that traditionally enjoy parental leave benefits in the private market.
“All three legislative proposals … help move the United States toward a universal system of paid family leave,” reads the brief written by Rachel Anderson, the director of CPJ’s Families Valued initiative.
“Without a system of paid family leave, many Americans feel pressure to work rather than care for a loved one. Research on paid family leave in other countries and in early-adopter states in the U.S. shows a correlation between paid parental leave and improvements in child health.”
Each of the bills creates a path to paid leave for workers whose employers do not provide or cannot afford the benefit. While two of the bills only provide parental leave, the most-expansive of the options ensures leave for births, adoptions, fostering, medical reasons and family caregiving.
With all three bills providing parental leave, CPJ argues that paid parental leave will ensure that children receive immunizations, preventative medical care as well as ensure mothers have time to breastfeed for longer durations.
The most expansive paid family leave proposal is the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act), sponsored by Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. The legislation builds upon the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.
The bill essentially raises the federal payroll tax to help pay for a paid family leave plan that would be available to anyone needing to take family or parental leave whether or not they are self-employed or working part-time.
Under the act, the government would pay for two-thirds of the employee’s wages up to a capped amount for 12 weeks. According to CPJ, the FAMILY Act proposes a 0.4 percent increase in the federal payroll tax. For the increase. 0.2 percent will be paid by employees and 0.2 percent paid by employers.
CPJ estimates that when taking the post-Tax Cuts and Jobs Act tax savings as a starting point, low- and moderate-income families could retain between $3 and $1,146 of their tax savings if the Family Act is enacted.
The FAMILY ACT also covers workers who need to take time off to care for foster children or care for family members with a serious medical diagnosis or in need of end-of-life care.
“Drawing on CPJ’s core principles around the value of family across the lifespan, we encourage paid leave proposals to incorporate family caregiving for loved ones with a serious medical diagnosis or at the end of life,” Anderson wrote.
Anderson explains that critics of the FAMILY act argue that more households will utilize the benefit than anticipated. Thus, the cost of the benefits will exceed projections and will require more than a 0.4 percent payroll tax.
While Republicans have in the past opposed the increase to the payroll tax to fund paid family leave, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has proposed allowing working parents to take up to three months of paid parental leave by taking early withdrawals from their Social Security benefits. The proposal does not provide other types of paid family leave.
The idea was proposed by attorney Kristin Shapiro and former Social Security Commissioner Andrew Briggs and was included in Rubio’s Economic Security for New Parents Act in 2018.
According to CPJ, the concept has also made its way into a legislative proposal that has not yet been introduced called the Child Rearing and Development Leave Empowerment (CRADLE) Act.
However, CPJ warns that funding paid parental leave with early Social Security withdrawals has a major drawback in that it would put parents at risk of having to delay their retirement to choose in order to take paid family leave.
“The Tax Policy Center estimates that this approach would provide median wage households with a benefit of just under 60 percent of a leave-taker’s gross wages,” CPJ reports. “Parents who utilize the program’s paid family leave would experience a three percent reduction in their retirement benefits per leave taken.”
“Put another way, a worker who takes 12 weeks of leave would need to delay his or her social security benefits by about twice that time,” Anderson continued.
ACJ warns that the arrangement places the cost of family care on the families themselves.
Bill with bipartisan sponsorship
The third proposal is the Advancing Support for Working Families Act. The act was introduced by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., in December and co-sponsored by two Democrats and three other Republicans.
Under the bill, new parents could take an advance on their household’s future child tax credits.
Under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the per-child tax credit was raised from $1,000 to $2,000 per year.
“In exchange for the advance, the plan calls for families to reduce their child tax credit by $500 per year for the next 10 years,” Anderson explained, adding that the child tax credit proposal would impose the “largest cost on leave-taking families during their child-rearing years.”
She argues that the arrangement “undermines the bill’s practicality and effectiveness in enabling parent-child caregiving and defraying the cost of bringing a child into one’s family.”
“Were the Advancing Support Act enacted, households who use a child tax credit advance as paid family leave would see the tax savings offered by the TCJA diminish or disappear in the following years.”
In an op-ed for Forbes, Tom Spiggle, a lawyer who specializes in workplace law, explained that while the FAMILY Act may be the most comprehensive paid family leave proposal, the bill with the best chance of passing is likely the bipartisan ASWFA.
“[T]here’s the fact that 2020 is an election year, so there’s added pressure for the President and members of Congress to pass some positive legislation, even if it’s a bit inadequate,” Spiggle wrote.
“Ideally, we can see something along the lines of the FAMILY Act, where all workers have paid family leave. But for the foreseeable future, paid parental leave is probably the most we can realistically expect.”
ACJ stresses that “new funding mechanisms other than new payroll taxes or benefit trade-offs should be explored.”
“These include a reprioritization within entitlement programs like Social Security and new revenues from excise taxes on items with a potentially negative impact on children, such as carbon, alcohol, or sugar,” Anderson encouraged.