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March 29 2019

Explainer: Republican lawmakers unveil paid family leave plan

Acton Institute
featuring Carrie L. Lukas

What just happened?

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Missouri) re-introduced a bill yesterday (slightly modified from one from last year) that would allow parents to use their Social Security benefits to provide paid parental leave benefits following the birth or adoption of a child.

“Our proposal would enact paid family leave in America without increasing taxes, without placing new mandates on small businesses,” Rubio said in a news conference.

Earlier this month, Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced similar legislation which also provides family leave benefits through the Social Security system. (Unless otherwise stated, the details below are from the Rubio-Wagner plan.)

How would it work?

Parents would start the process by filing an application (available online) with the Social Security Administration (SSA) and clarifying when they anticipate giving birth to or becoming the parent of a child. Upon verification of the parent’s eligibility, SSA would notify parents of their expected eligibility for the parental leave benefit. After the birth or adoption of the child, approved parents would then provide SSA with additional documentation, and upon verification SSA will remit the parental leave benefit. The benefit would be delivered in one month, two months or three monthly payments of equivalent size, depending on the amount of benefit claimed.

The benefit is transferrable between parents in a household, which means one parent could use the benefit for four weeks, and the other could use it for four weeks. The benefit can also be claimed if parents continue to work, either full or part-time.

Parents taking the option will delay the date at which they begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits by about three to six months per benefit taken, as determined by the Social Security Administration each year. Alternatively, they could also have the sum gradually deducted from benefits over the first five years of retirement.

How much would parents receive?

A summary of the bill provided to the Washington Post says nearly all parents earning less than the $60,000 median family income would receive leave pay equal to about two-thirds of their wages.

Who would be eligible?

To be eligible, parents would need to have a minimum of four quarters of coverage during the 4-quarter period preceding the birth or adoption of their child; and 8 quarters of coverage preceding the birth or adoption of their child; or 12 quarters of coverage preceding the birth or adoption of their child.

Would the benefit be taxable?

Yes. The leave benefit would be taxable, as are regular Social Security payments.

What is the difference between the Rubio-Wagner plan and the Ernst-Lee plan?

The primary difference is that the Rubio-Wagner bill would allow parents to choose to keep working and use the extra funds to pay for expenses, such as childcare.

Is there already a law requiring family leave?

The federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows individuals to be eligible for unpaid leave if their employer has more than 50 employees and the person has worked at the company for at least 12 months. But there is no requirement that company’s pay for such leave, and most corporations do not. (According to estimates from the Congressional Research Service, only 13 percent of private-sector employees have access to paid family leave through their employers.)

Who supports the bill?

In his announcement of the bill, Rubio was joined by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), and Reps. Ann Wagner (R-Missouri) and Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas). President Donald Trump endorsed the idea in his recent State of the Union, and his daughter and advisor Ivanka Trump is a strong supporter.

The Rubio plan from last year was endorsed by social and religious groups such as the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) and the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), as well as by the vast majority of Americans.

Many Congressional Democrats, however, oppose the bill because it is paid for through an earned benefit. They prefer full family leave to be paid through taxes or imposed on employers through federal mandates.


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Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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