by Shane Vander Hart
On Tuesday, U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., offered a bipartisan paid family leave plan for new parents. The proposal would allow parents to use the recently expanded child tax credit to receive a $5,000 benefit after having or adopting a child.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees eligible parents 12 weeks of unpaid leave without the threat of loss of their job. Many parents cannot afford that much unpaid time off of work, or they were ineligible to take the leave. Only 17 percent of Americans currently have a paid family leave plan.
In 2016, the Pew Research Center found that 50 percent of Americans who took leave used savings set aside for something else to cover lost wages or salary due to childcare expenses. Also, of those surveyed, 37 percent took on debt, and 41 percent cut their leave time short.
“There is no bigger kitchen table issue than a mother and a father being able to care for their newborn,” Cassidy said in a released statement. “In many cases, the first year of life is the most expensive for a family. This legislation addresses this, focuses resources and eases financial strain to provide a longer bonding period for the family. As a doctor, I know that if a mom and dad are able to have a deeper connection with their child at birth, it’s better for the health of the baby and the mother.”
“Too many parents are forced to choose between losing time with a new child or taking on debt to make up for lost wages,” Sinema added. “Arizona’s working families deserve better.”
This proposal is the third family leave plan offered by congressional Republicans this session, but the first with a Democratic co-sponsor.
The first proposal sponsored by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., is the New Parents Act (S. 920/H.R. 1940). The second proposal is the Child Rearing and Development Leave Empowerment (CRADLE) Act (not yet filed) sponsored by U.S. Senators Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Mike Lee, R-Utah. With both bills, eligible new parents can access Social Security benefits for paid family leave up to three months, differing slightly in how they offset the benefit.
Democrats back the FAMILY Act (S. 463) sponsored by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and co-sponsored by 34 Democrat and independent senators. Her bill replaces 66 percent of a parent’s income for three months but offsets it with an increase in the payroll tax.
All of the Republican plans offered do not require additional taxes. They also do not create a new entitlement program, and they are not a mandate on employers.
The Cassidy-Sinema plan does not affect Social Security, something they use as a selling point for the proposal.
“This is a common ground solution that can pass Congress and become law,” Cassidy said.
Congress recently increased the child tax credit from up to $1,000 to up to $2,000 per year. The Cassidy-Sinema proposal allows the parents of a newborn or recently adopted child (under the age of six) to bring forward their child tax credits to receive $5,000 immediately. They then would receive a $1,500 child tax credit for the following ten years.
The $5,000 benefit can replace income while taking leave from work or pay for childcare if parents decide to stay at work.
Sinema said the plan offers “a new option” for new parents to finance time off of work or help pay for childcare.
Parents who do not qualify for the full child tax credit can bring forward their benefit to receive 12-weeks of wage replacement. They then would receive an adjusted child tax credit benefit over the next 15 years.
Terry Schilling, executive director of American Principles Project, applauded the idea.
“With recent news that America’s birth rate just hit an all-time low, this proposal could not have come at a better time. Our political leaders should be working overtime to find ways to make it easier for Americans to grow and support their families, and this plan from Senators Cassidy and Sinema will help do just that,” Schilling said. “It’s exactly the type of plan policymakers on both sides of the aisle should have no problem endorsing.”