Republican paid leave proposal woefully inadequate
© Getty Images

In the 25 years since the Family and Medical Leave Act was signed into law, our country has seen a paradigm shift on paid leave. States from California to Rhode Island have adopted paid family and medical leave policies, as well as leading companies from Levi Strauss to Adobe. The federal government needs to catch up to the will of the American people—paid leave is fair, it is humane, and it is popular, and it is good for the economy.

We welcome Republicans to the table on paid leave. Their presence is long overdue. Working families are at the center of public discourse, after spending so many years pushed to the sidelines by the Republican majority. However, the Republican proposals for paid family leave are woefully inadequate to meet the needs of working families.

ADVERTISEMENT

It has been reported that Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioNikki Haley: New York Times ‘knew the facts’ about curtains and still released story March For Our Lives founder leaves group, says he regrets trying to 'embarrass' Rubio Rubio unloads on Turkish chef for 'feasting' Venezuela's Maduro: 'I got pissed' MORE (R-Fla.) is working on legislation modeled after the Independent Women’s Forum’s recent proposal. That plan only includes parental leave which would leave behind more than three-quarters of workers who take family or medical leave for reasons other than the birth or adoption of a child. This vast majority of people use leave to care for themselves, or a sick family member. Family caregiving needs will only increase as the population and workforce ages and the millions of people caring for both their elderly family members and their own children increases.

In addition, Rubio’s developing bill would carve parental leave out of Social Security, breaking one promise to Americans to fund another. We are already asking families to make the impossible choice between their work and their families in the event of a birth of a child, or the care of a loved one. It is reckless and irresponsible to ask workers to roll the dice on their needs in retirement in order to cover family leave. Our Republican colleagues need to understand that some people do not have a choice as to when they retire—some need to retire early. For those workers, the Rubio plan would cut benefits. 

Any legislation that reflects the Independent Women’s Forum plan to raid Social Security to pay for parental leave benefits would jeopardize workers’ future retirement security and would hurt women, low-wage workers and workers of color the most.

Moreover, women’s retirement security would take the biggest hit—as they would be the workers who disproportionally borrow against their own Social Security benefits. And Rubio’s plan would also penalize larger families—potentially forcing parents with more children to work longer before they can finally retire. And for low-income workers, whose life expectancies are already shorter than high-income workers, pushing retirement off further and further could deny families the hope of any retirement at all.

American workers deserve better than this proposal, and we have the solution: the FAMILY Act, which would provide 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave that is sustainable, affordable, and inclusive.  It would include caregiving of all kinds, rather than just parental leave. And it would cost workers an average of just $1.50 a week—leaving future Social Security benefits alone. 

The FAMILY Act, led by DeLauro in the House and Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandGillibrand calls for Kavanaugh nomination to be withdrawn Teen girls pen open letter supporting Kavanaugh accuser: We imagine you at that party and 'see ourselves' Poll: Most Massachusetts voters don't think Warren should run for president in 2020 MORE (D-N.Y.) in the Senate, would address the greatest economic challenge of our time: that too many Americans who play by the rules are in jobs that do not pay them enough to live on. Losing weeks’ worth of wages in order to care for an ill loved one would push many families over the financial edge, some past the point of no return.

In a worker’s hour of greatest need, we need to be there for them, not ask them to bet their retirement. Family and medical leave can and should be a bipartisan issue—but we need to do it the right way. The FAMILY Act is the responsible solution.

DeLauro represents Connecticut's 3rd District and is ranking member on the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee.