Senate Republicans Readying Paid Family Leave Bill

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By Tyrone Richardson

Republican senators are working on legislation that would let employees set aside some of their Social Security contributions to allow them to be paid while out on parental leave.

Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Mike Lee (Utah), and Joni Ernst (Iowa) are working with the Independent Women’s Forum to draft the legislation, lawmakers and group members said during a Feb. 7 media conference call. Lee and others on the conference call cautioned that they’re still sculpting the legislation for the voluntary paid parental leave program.

The measure would allow a worker to deduct Social Security contributions to use for pay when on leave from work for situations including the birth of a child. To repay those funds, the worker would delay retirement, those on the call said.

The legislation would join other measures introduced this Congress that propose some type of national paid leave program. The recently signed tax overhaul bill, meanwhile, includes a provision giving employers a tax credit of up to 25 percent if they offer workers up to 12 weeks of paid family leave.

“Employers should not be loaded with one-size fits all mandates,” Ernst said, adding that any measure shouldn’t “increase the footprint of the government and should not increase taxes.”

Democratic Members Voice Opposition

The idea has drawn criticism from Democrats like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), who says Social Security shouldn’t be used for such a program.

“Congress should be working to strengthen Social Security, not weaken it. Any plan that robs the Social Security trust fund will ultimately hit low-income workers, seniors, and women the hardest,” according to a written statement provided to Bloomberg Law. “Our country desperately needs a paid family medical leave plan, but robbing Peter to pay Paul is shortsighted and wrong.”

Gillibrand in February 2017 introduced the Senate version of the FAMILY Act (S.337, H.R. 947), which would establish a national paid family and medical leave insurance program, funded by contributions from employers and workers. That bill has since stalled in committee.

Gillibrand’s criticism was shared by some other Democrats, including Rep. Bobby Scott (Va.), ranking member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

“While I’m encouraged there’s bipartisan support for paid family and medical leave, we should not shortchange Social Security benefits for seniors to accomplish that desirable goal,” he said.

White House Floated Leave Program

The drafting of the new Republican legislation comes as White House adviser Ivanka Trump has been meeting with Republican lawmakers to push for a paid parental leave program.

Ivanka Trump has focused on paid leave and other working-and-family issues since her father’s presidential campaign. The administration last year proposed taking funds from other government programs to establish a paid family leave program as part of its budget request.

The administration is scheduled Feb. 12 to release a new budget request, which could reference a parental leave program.

Other paid leave legislation includes Rep. Mimi Walters’ (R-Calif.) Workflex in the 21st Century Act (H.R. 4219). It would exempt employers from state and local paid leave obligations if they give workers a certain amount of general paid leave that can be used for medical, family, bereavement, vacation, and other reasons.

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