A conservative group is proposing a budget-neutral option for providing paid leave for young parents.
The idea of paid family leave is popular, and overwhelming bipartisan majorities support the benefit: 71 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats, according to a 2016 poll. The Trump administration put out a proposal for family leave earlier this year, and Ivanka Trump has made it a personal priority.
Last year, a bipartisan group of experts from the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute recommended a payroll tax hike to fund the benefit, and Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced the idea in the U.S. Senate.
But now the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) has a plan to provide the benefit without raising taxes: Allow young parents to delay their Social Security benefits by three months in exchange for a partially funded parental leave now. The option would be voluntary, available to both parents, and would not apply to other types of leave, such as taking time off to care for an aging parent, for example. A spokesman for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the senator plans to file a bill along these lines in the near future.
When interest is factored in, “on a person-for-person basis, the proposal is revenue neutral over the long term,” Andrew Biggs, a Social Security scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, testified at a Senate hearing last week.
“Nobody had thought of this before,” IWF president Carrie Lukas told me. “Social Security was in its own box, but workers are already building up, essentially, credit with the government.”
Lukas, a libertarian, likes this method as a way to offer paid leave without growing the government. She conceded that it would add $8 billion to $10 billion per year to the overall cost of Social Security, but that is “small potatoes” compared to its $950 billion in annual obligations.
Of course, one big problem with borrowing from Social Security is that it could be insolvent by 2034. Congress would still have to fix that, Lukas noted.
Advocates for paid parental leave say parents tend to take more time off after a birth if offered paid or even partially paid leave, which results in better health and attachment for babies. It also reduces recovery time for mothers, more than 30 percent of whom undergo major abdominal surgery in the form of a C-section, and 15 percent of whom struggle with postpartum depression.
U.S. companies must hold a woman’s job for 12 weeks after she has a baby, but are not required to pay her during that time—and that rule only applies to certain kinds of jobs. Sixty percent of the workforce is not eligible for the benefit at all, according to the working group from Brookings. Many who are eligible don’t take the full 12 weeks because they can’t afford it.
The Center for Public Justice, an organization that works on political issues through a “Christian pluralist lens,” recently released a report listing more benefits of paid leave for families. The report points out God’s purposes for rest and family care, as well as the connections between postpartum stress and divorce.