If you’re part of the 40 percent of American workers without paid family leave, sorry: Whether caring for a newborn infant or healing from a heart attack, many workers today must weigh their health needs against their economic needs.
Since only a small portion of workers currently have employer-sponsored paid leave, dueling Republican and Democrat proposals for paid-family-leave legislation are emerging in Congress. Our current federal laws guarantee only unpaid leave time, which means workers can lose their jobs or their income for taking just a few weeks off to keep their families healthy. Senator Marco Rubio and other conservatives are peddling a plan that would finance workers’ leave by taking money away from the retired. Inspired by right-wing model proposals, the scheme counters previous legislation, supported by liberal lawmakers, for national paid-leave insurance with comprehensive family benefits. That broader plan builds on state-based paid-leave schemes in California, Connecticut, and other states, which are already operating successfully.
But Republicans prefer the “budget neutral” alternative that would rob the public coffers, rather than increase taxes. Meanwhile, progressives warn that the Rubio proposal, which was crafted in collaboration with Ivanka Trump (and echoes a conservative childcare tax-credit plan proposed earlier this year), would result in an even more exclusionary, underfunded patchwork of extremely limited benefits for families’ health-care needs.
There’s a dire need for some kind of system to support the millions of workers who, from their first day at their first job to the day they retire, face the pressure of sacrificing their income in order take time needed to cope with health needs. (Tens of millions of workers can’t even take a single paid sick day off from work.) But instead of an equitable nationwide system of sustainable public benefits with federal oversight, the Rubio paid-leave proposal is designed to make two of the most vulnerable groups subsidize each other, funding limited paid leave for new parents by raiding Social Security for seniors. If every paid day of sick leave that workers take ends up shrinking your days of retirement support, you end up undermining grandma’s nest egg to help parents care for their newborns.