Colorful Commentary

President’s Paid Leave Proposal Doesn’t Do Enough For Working Families

Posted July 27, 2017 by Esther Turcios

By Esther Turcios, CFI Policy Analyst

3It goes without saying that a federal paid family leave program is long overdue. Too many low-income families find themselves between a rock and a hard place, having to decide between losing their jobs or taking unpaid time off to care for themselves, a new child or an ill family member. So, when President Trump rolled out his 2018 budget, I was quite surprised to see a proposal for a paid parental leave program, given his huge cuts to many other programs that support working families. Clearly, I needed to break down his budget to see exactly what he was proposing.

Currently, under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) workers are provided with job-protected unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons. But, this is available to less than fifty percent of workers, most of whom cannot afford to take it, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families. In Colorado, sixty percent of employees don’t have access to FMLA. The unfortunate reality is that parents, most notably women, end up leaving their jobs to care for their families.

At the moment, five states (California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, and Washington) and D.C have enacted statewide paid leave insurance programs. These states provide great models of paid family leave. A 2011 report revealed that after six years of implementing a state-wide program, both employers and employees in California reported positive effects of paid leave. During the 2017 legislative session, CFI worked with coalition partner, 9to5, to sponsor HB 17-1307, which would have created a statewide family and medical leave insurance program, providing partial wage replacement for employees who need to care for a new child, themselves or an ill family member. The bill passed out of a chamber for the first time in its history, but unfortunately it died in the Senate State Affairs committee.

Last month first daughter, Ivanka Trump, wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in which she showed her support for paid leave, stating that, “Providing a national guaranteed paid-leave program — with a reasonable time limit and benefit cap — isn’t an entitlement, it’s an investment in America’s working families.” She further supported her stance by highlighting her father’s budget proposal in which he included a national paid leave program.

So, who would be covered under this proposed program? How much would it cost? How much would families receive? Well according to Analytical Perspectives, an analysis of the president’s proposed budget, the paid parental leave program is a benefit within the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program that would provide up to 6 weeks of paid leave to mothers, fathers, and adoptive parents. The benefit is set to cost about $25 billion over the next 10 years according to a recent Vox article, which would be paid for by the states. Under the plan, states have broad power over the design and financing of the program, but they would be required to maintain a certain amount in their unemployment trust funds. This would mean that states below the minimum standard, would have to increase their UI premiums to build up their funds.

The president also included a bundle of reforms that, apparently, will help states fund this program. These reforms include eliminating improper unemployment payments; mandatory funding for reemployment services to get people back to work more quickly; and closing a loophole that currently allows individuals to receive both UI and Disability Insurance (DI) benefits for the same period of joblessness, forcing them to choose between the two programs.

However, still unanswered is how much states would have to raise unemployment insurance premiums, clearly placing the burden of cost on state governments. There is also no way of knowing how much families will receive and whether that amount will be enough for parents to take time off. It is particularly important to point out how the program neglects to include paid time off so employees can care for themselves or a family member when they are ill.

I agree with Ivanka Trump’s statement that a paid family leave program is an investment in America’s working families. However, it is ironic that the rest of the President’s budget also calls for $1.9 trillion in health care cuts, $193 billion in SNAP cuts, and $400 billion in cuts to discretionary programs for low-and moderate-income people, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In total, this would amount to $2.5 trillion in cuts to programs that working families rely on.

Paid time off has shown to produce countless benefits. From improving health outcomes for children, ill adults and seniors, to strengthening a family’s economic stability and, ultimately, creating a stronger national economy. Support from any president for paid federal leave is welcomed, but this proposed program raises more unanswered questions than solutions. This coupled with the president’s cuts to SNAP, programs that reduce funding for job training and education, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, are clear indications that President Trump’s proposed paid leave program will not benefit families. Instead, taken together with his other proposed budget cuts, the plan will have dire consequences for low and moderate-income families.

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