Congress Has Its First Bipartisan Parental-Leave Plan

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The bill would allow new parents to receive an advance on their child tax credit to enable paid leave or to offset child-care costs.

Late last year, congressional lawmakers and the Trump administration agreed to add a provision to the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act to offer federal employees up to twelve weeks of paid parental leave. The announcement cast a spotlight on a policy debate that already has gotten plenty of attention during Trump’s presidency, thanks especially to the work of his eldest daughter, Ivanka, who has urged politicians over the past few years to craft a federal paid-leave program for parents of newborns.

After having floated the idea last fall, a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers has officially introduced new parental-leave legislation, called the Advancing Support for Working Families Act. It would allow new parents to receive an advance on their child tax credit following the birth or adoption of a new child to enable paid leave or offset the costs of child care.

After much debate within the GOP, the final Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed at the end of 2017 raised the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000 per child. Under the structure of the Working Families Act, parents could obtain an advance of up to $5,000 on their child tax credit and would offset the cost by receiving a smaller credit over the subsequent ten years. Parents who took the full $5,000 would receive a maximum of $1,500 annually.

Low-income parents who do not qualify for the fully refundable portion of the credit would receive an advance on the child tax credit equivalent to twelve weeks’ wages, and those parents’ credits would be lowered over the subsequent 15 years.

This new bill is one of several paid-leave plans on offer in Congress, including a Democratic policy that would create an entirely new entitlement program. The FAMILY Act, sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.), would guarantee twelve weeks of paid time off, not only for new parents but also for family caregivers or sick workers. The bill would finance the program by increasing the payroll tax by 0.4 percentage points, split evenly between employers and employees.

Meanwhile, two sets of GOP politicians have introduced similar bills, each of which would allow new parents to collect some of their Social Security benefits after having a child, offsetting the cost by delaying retirement or collecting their benefits at the lower rate for several years after retiring. One bill, the New Parents Act, is sponsored by Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Mitt Romney (R., Utah) in the Senate and Ann Wagner (R., Mo.) and Dan Crenshaw (R., Texas) in the House. The second bill, the Child Rearing and Development Leave Empowerment Act, has been introduced only in the Senate, sponsored by Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) and Mike Lee (R., Utah).

The Working Families Act is the only one of the four bills to have bipartisan support, and of the options supported by conservative lawmakers, it is the only one to have more politicians signed on in addition to the lead sponsors. In the Senate, Bill Cassidy (R., La.) has joined with Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.) to sponsor the bill, along with cosponsors Republican Steve Daines of Montana and both of West Virginia’s senators, Shelley Moore Capito (R.) and Joe Manchin (D.).

“Too often, Arizonans who start families are forced to decide between going back to work right away, or losing wages by taking time off to spend with their growing families,” Sinema said in a release announcing that the legislation had been introduced. “Our bipartisan bill represents an important first step that can pass Congress now, offering parents a new option to finance time off of work or help pay for childcare.”

Sinema’s prominent support for the bill continues her trend of bucking Democratic party leadership and pursuing a more moderate path in the Senate.

In the House, meanwhile, Representatives Colin Allred (D., Texas) and Elise Stefanik (R., N.Y.) are serving as cosponsors of the new legislation, along with Joe Cunningham (D., S.C.), Jeff VanDrew (D., N.J.), Josh Gottheimer (D., N.J.), Jamie Herrera-Beutler (R., Wash.), Anthony Gonzalez (R., Ohio), and Bryan Steil (R., Wis.).

At an event sponsored by the National Review Institute last November, Ivanka Trump said the administration hadn’t decided which particular policy to support yet but that she was hoping to see which of the conservative policies managed to build enough of a coalition to become law. She also noted that several of the Republican bills could be combined or even passed separately without contradicting one another.

The growing bipartisan support for this newest legislative option is a good sign for proponents of a federal paid-parental-leave program, especially conservatives who want to advance pro-family policy without creating an expensive new entitlement.

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