WASHINGTON – Democrat and Republican members of Congress agreed Tuesday that the federal government should do more to help families after the arrival of a child or when family members are ill — but they couldn’t agree on how to provide that help.
At a House Ways and Means Committee meeting, Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the committee, said the two sides also disagree on how to pay for family leave.
Democrats have proposed the Family Act, which would create a 0.4% payroll tax for all families and fund up to 12 weeks of partially paid family leave. House Republicans have instead pushed a plan that would allow families to take an advance on their Social Security benefits to use for paid parental leave.
Both plans would add to the Family Medical Leave Act, which requires employers to allow workers to take leave for qualified family or medical reasons, but does not require employers to pay them during the leave.. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who first introduced the Family Act in 2013, said the lack of continued pay makes family leave financially impractical for many families.
Committee members cited a 2012 study conducted by the Department of Labor that found that roughly a quarter of women return to work within two weeks of giving birth.
Hadley Heath Manning, director of policy at the Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative women’s issues organization, said a payroll would depress job creation and wages, increasing the gender wage-gap.
“Rather than instituting a universal one size fits all policy, lawmakers should focus any government intervention on helping those who need support most,” Manning said. “While otherwise allowing businesses and employees to continue to find their own personalized policy solutions.”
Vicki Shabo, senior fellow for paid leave policy and strategy at the progressive think tank New America said the House plan to use future Social Security benefits to pay for family leave would force new parents to choose between their present and future. She also said that 75% of current FMLA users are people taking care of a loved one or family member — groups not covered under the New Parents Act.
“[The New Parents Act] assumes that the only source of revenue available is workers’ own future financial security and enforces immediate tradeoffs at a time when childcare costs are highest,” Shabo said.
Eight states and the District of Columbia have versions of the Family Act. In those area, Shabo said women return to the workforce at higher rates and are paid more in the first year after giving birth.
“I think we have to look at, not the cost of what this program is, which would be small and predictable, but the cost of doing nothing,” she said.