The United States is the only Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nation without a national paid leave policy and in 2020, the #yearofthemother, American mothers are demanding one.
This week, paid leave was a hot topic on Capitol Hill as a House Ways and Means Committee hearing discussed three competing paid leave bills: The FAMILY Act, the Advancing Support for Working Families Act and the New Parents Act.
What are the national paid leave policy bills they're discussing?
The FAMILY Act is a plan for paid leave insurance not unlike the Canadian system or Washington state's plan. It would see that American employers and workers pay into a plan (through small payroll deductions) and when a worker has a baby or needs to take time off to care for a family member, they'd be able to collect 66% of their wages for 12 weeks.
The New Parents Act takes a different approach and would allow parents to draw on their Social Security after a birth or adoption.
The Advancing Support for Working Families Act would give families the option of accessing an advance of up to $5,000 of their future child tax credit. Workers would be able to access this even if they didn't take the time off work, and low-income parents who do not qualify for the child tax credit would be eligible for a 100% wage replacement for 12 weeks.
What lawmakers are discussing about the paid leave policy options
At the House Ways and Means Committee this week it was clear that while lawmakers agree that American parents need paid leave, there is a lot of disagreement about how to get it.
The FAMILY Act is widely supported by Democrats, while the New Parents Act is a Republican plan. The Advancing Support for Working Families Act is co-sponsored by both parties.
The American Family Survey in 2019 presented some of these plans to respondents without revealing the party affiliation of the bills. It found Americans do not support plans that involve borrowing against Social Security, but are also not into the idea of higher taxes.
The FAMILY Act would see a payroll deduction of an estimated 2 cents per $10 earned, and this week, the lead Republican on the Means and Ways committee, Kevin Brady, said that's "just another outrageous tax hike American workers can't afford."
What advocates are saying when it comes to national paid leave in the U.S.
Some paid leave advocates disagree, insisting that what America can't afford is to be the only country without a national paid leave policy.
Vicki Shabo is the Senior Fellow for Paid Leave Policy and Strategy at New America's Better Life Lab. Shabo says, "the FAMILY Act is the right approach if we are serious about reducing health care costs and improving health outcomes, stimulating business productivity and strengthening the economy. The FAMILY Act is the right approach if we're seeking to close gaps in gender, racial and economic inequalities—as well as gaps among urban, suburban and rural America in terms of access to care and economic opportunity."
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner is the Executive Director of MomsRising. She says the Family Act is the best solution, and worries that by drawing on Social Security the New Parents Act "would force families to trade economic security in retirement for paid time off to spend with a new baby today and would especially harm low-wage workers, women and those in communities of color, who are least likely to have paid leave through their employers and most likely to need Social Security benefits when they retire."
Rowe-Finkbeiner also doubts The Advancing Support for Working Families Act would do much to help families, as it doesn't provide workers with protected leave, and because accessing the $5,000 after a birth or adoption could see a family's child tax credits reduced for a decade or more.
Republican Congresswoman Ann Wagner disagreed with Shabo and Rowe-Finkbeiner, briefing the Means and Ways committee on the New Parents Act, which she says "would give parents a paid leave option offering choice, freedom, and flexibility without raising taxes."
Wagner says she is "encouraged to see both Republicans and Democrats coming to the table with rolled-up sleeves. As a mother, grandmother, and an employer of young parents, I know that having a baby is both a time of great joy and often anxiety."
We are encouraged to see paid leave being talked about in Congress. We know Americans want paid family leave and that it would help babies, fathers and mothers. This is the #yearofthemother and we want to hear more conversations and more progress on Capitol Hill.