New bipartisan bill would let parents borrow for paid leave, child care

U.S. Reps. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, and Colin Allred, D-Texas, along with Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., announced their bill Wednesday and heralded it as the first bipartisan, bicameral paid family leave plan. It has already gained a nod of support from the White House.

“The joy of starting a family should not be dampened by the fear of being unable to make ends meet if a parent takes time off work,” said Stefanik. “This bipartisan effort to support hardworking families in the first year after birth or adoption will prove critical to ensuring families can thrive without the burden of potential bankruptcy or debt.”

Allowing new parents of biological or adopted children to take paid time off to care for their children is now a growing priority for Republicans and Democrats.

The United States remains the only country in the developed world that does not mandate employers offer paid leave for new mothers, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The bipartisan plan would allow parents to borrow against their child tax credit to receive up to $5,000 in the first year of their child’s life or the first year they adopt a child. Parents could use the money to replace their income, pay for child care expenses or other costs, regardless of whether they choose to leave the workplace or not.

Parents would pay this money back to the government over time by taking a $500 reduction in their child tax credit in future years until the $5,000 is repaid. The child tax credit was increased to $2,000 last year under the Republican tax package.

President Donald Trump’s daughter and his advisor, Ivanka Trump, backed this proposal Wednesday.

“The only pathway to making paid family leave a reality for hardworking American parents is through bipartisan, bicameral legislation,” she said. “The White House applauds Senator Cassidy, Senator Sinema, Congressman Allred and Congresswoman Stefanik for introducing legislation that will support parents in the critical first year following the birth or adoption of a child.”

Sinema and Stefanik emphasized that the proposal was a “compliment” to the existing state paid family leave laws and voluntary business practices. The state of New York passed a paid family leave policy in 2016 that provides time off and wage replacement benefits to eligible workers paid for by a payroll deduction of less than one-fifth of one percent per paycheck.

Allred and Sinema indicated that they strongly back this plan, but support some other mechanisms for paid family leave too.

“As we work toward guaranteed family leave, this bill is a good first step,” said Allred. “This bipartisan bill allows us to help families now.”

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., have also advanced a paid family leave plan. Gillibrand has introduced her bill in each congressional session since 2013.

“I’m grateful that the senators are working toward a paid leave plan. I think it is really important to have bipartisan support,” said Gillibrand Wednesday. “Forcing parents to choose when they will receive a benefit they have already earned, I think is unfair.”

Gillibrand and DeLauro’s plan would create a kind of family leave insurance, that functions like unemployment insurance. Eligible workers could earn two-thirds of their monthly wages (capped at $4,000) for up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a new child, a serious health condition of their own or of a family member, and for some other situations involving military members. The money would come from employee and employer payroll contributions of two-tenths of 1 percent, or about $2 per week for a typical worker.

Cassidy called his plan the “sweet spot” for lawmakers who oppose using a payroll tax to fund paid leave, but want to help parents.