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American Families Need Real Paid Leave, Not Another Trump Con

Amy Traub

According to reports, Ivanka Trump is passionate about paid parental leave. Even as the Trump administration pushes a bill stripping health coverage from 22 million Americans and promotes a budget that slashes funding for basic food, shelter, heating, child care, elder care, education, job training and workplace safety programs (combined with yet more cuts to health coverage), the first daughter is making the rounds on Capitol Hill, contending that things will work out for American families if only new parents get the opportunity to take 6 weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child.

For staunch, long-time supporters of paid family leave, this is a cruel joke—and the crudest kind of distraction.

In our recent study, The Parent Trap, my Demos colleagues and I looked at how a lack of paid family leave combines with other stressors like a shortage of quality, affordable child care; irregular work schedules; jobs that don’t pay family-supporting wages; and household debt (including medical debt) to leave American parents trapped between the need to provide care for their children and the necessity of earning income. One thing was clear: loosening the shackles of one part of the “parent trap” could not make up for tightening every other constraint. This is especially true for single mothers, low-income parents, and parents of color, who face the greatest barriers to supporting and raising a family.

While it is impossible to isolate Trump’s paid leave plan from the larger budget context, the plan remains inadequate when considered on its own merits. By incorporating paid leave only to care for a newborn or newly adopted child, for example, the plan excludes the millions of Americans who need leave to deal with a long-term illness of their own, or to care for a sick child or other loved one during an extended illness. What’s more, the duration of leave is miserably short—just half of the 12-week standard set by the nation’s unpaid leave program more than two decades ago. And by proposing to run paid leave through state unemployment insurance systems, it would dangerously stress those programs even as it binds parents to the programs’ restrictive eligibility rules.

Demos is proud to be among the more than 340 organizations supporting the National Partnership for Women and Families’ letter condemning Trump’s unacceptable plan and laying out clear standards for any adequate plan for paid family and medical leave. A strong, responsible paid leave policy must:

  • Apply to everyone on a nationwide basis, no matter where people live, where they work or what job they hold.
  • Include all of the well-established reasons people need paid leave—to care for new children or seriously ill or injured family members including aging loved ones, to address their own serious health condition, or to address military care needs.
  • Offer substantial benefits so that lower- and middle-wage workers can afford to take the paid family and medical leave available to them.
  • Provide a reasonable duration of leave that matches or exceeds the 12-week precedent established by the FMLA, the nation’s unpaid leave law.
  • Protect workers from adverse employment consequences for using paid leave.
  • Be sustainably and responsibly funded, without making unacceptable and harmful cuts or adding barriers to access to other essential programs, including but not limited to Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Unemployment Insurance (UI) or other programs that serve millions of people across the country.

Paid leave is not a pie-in-the-sky vision. California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have been successfully guaranteeing paid family leave to residents for years, and New York State will begin to roll out its paid leave program in January 2018. Washington State is also on the verge of implementing its own paid leave plan. And a national plan that meets the basic standards has been repeatedly introduced in Congress: the FAMILY Act, sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. While there is a strong case to be made that America should aspire to a still higher standard for paid leave in line with the standards of other developed countries, there is little question that the Trump plan falls dramatically short.

By peddling her own watered down plan, which is gaining little traction among Republican senators who have little interest in anything beyond tax credits, Ivanka Trump may be aiming to undermine support for this more robust vision. The long list of signers – from the National Organization for Women to the National Council of La Raza and the AFL-CIO—suggest that this strategy will fail. If Ivanka Trump truly cares about the well-being of families with young children, she should be fighting for a budget and health care law that support them, and a strong paid family leave law.