Proposals to reform supports for parents face chopping block

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) leaves a House Democratic Caucus meeting on Tuesday, August 24, 2021 where they mostly discussed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
Greg Nash

Democrats’ plans to transform how the U.S. supports children and families as a way to promote women’s workforce participation appear likely to face significant cuts as progressives seek a compromise with centrist holdouts trying to pare back the party’s massive social infrastructure package.  

President Biden indicated in meetings with Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday that a federal guarantee for paid family leave could be chopped from 12 weeks to four, while the child tax credit may only be extended for an additional year instead of into 2025 as House Democrats have proposed.  

But both proposed cutbacks quickly ran into resistance on Wednesday from progressives as well as moderates in the New Democrat Coalition, who have prioritized a longer extension of the child tax credit.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said that only extending the child tax credit for a year would be “a big mistake.” 

“What I will do is to continue to pressure for a new framework that’s more enduring for children and for families,” DeLauro said. 

The U.S., meanwhile, remains the only industrialized nation in the world without a national paid parental leave policy. And while four weeks of guaranteed paid leave would be a significant bump from the current status quo of zero weeks, progressives argue it’s not enough, given that physical recovery after giving birth often takes six weeks or longer. 

The existing law that allows certain workers to take unpaid family leave without risk of losing their jobs allots up to 12 weeks. And other countries offer far more generous paid parental leave policies, with some, like Estonia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Japan, Austria, Norway and Slovenia, allowing more than a year’s worth. 

“What I said to the president yesterday is that I really would prefer to have a shorter number of years, but a longer number of weeks — stick to 12 weeks — because we as women understand that four weeks is not sufficient,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the Congressional Progressive Caucus leader. 

“And families understand that. It’s not just women, obviously,” Jayapal added.  

Another progressive, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), said that only allotting four weeks of paid family leave “just doesn’t make sense.” 

“I mean, you can’t have four weeks for someone who’s pregnant or who’s on maternity leave. It just doesn’t make sense. So we need to increase the weeks of that — something the caucus is pushing for,” Khanna said. 

More than 100 House Democrats and 15 of their Senate counterparts each penned letters on Tuesday urging Biden to ensure the party’s social spending package includes paid family and medical leave provisions. Notably, however, neither group of Democrats made specific demands as to how many weeks of leave should be allotted. 

“This is one of our top policy priorities in this historic legislation. Just as we need roads and bridges, we need paid leave along with affordable and accessible child care and the expanded child tax credit, to ensure our families have a full range of needed supports,” the senators, led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has introduced legislation to ensure up to 12 weeks of paid family leave, wrote in the letter. 

Other proposals designed to bolster child care programs as approved by House committees appear to be intact for now. That includes universal preschool as well as providing funding to increase wages for child care workers and capping low- and middle-income families’ child care co-payments at 7 percent of their income.  

But in addition to reducing the length of the expanded child tax credit, which was first enacted as part of Biden’s COVID-19 relief package earlier this year, it may also be scaled back to limit families’ eligibility. 

Axios first reported earlier this week that key centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is pushing for the extended child tax credit to include a work requirement and an income cap around $60,000.  

Manchin reportedly is open to ensuring that universal preschool is free for everyone, as it already is in his home state. 

But the notion of means-testing the child tax credit is running into pushback from progressives as well as House moderates, including members of the business-friendly New Democrat Coalition. 

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), a member of the New Democrat Coalition, estimated that 97 percent of families with children in his district currently benefit from the child tax credit and rejected the idea of scaling that back. 

“I’m trying to make sure that whole benefit remains,” Horsford told reporters. “I told the chairman it’s a do-or-die.”

The New Democrat Coalition as a whole has also pushed for ensuring more certainty in the policies that are enacted in the legislation by prioritizing fewer programs that last longer, rather than allowing for more “cliffs” where benefits could expire absent congressional action. 

“Short-term cliffs make it really hard for things to be continued,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), who chairs the New Democrat Coalition.  

“Kids don’t grow up in a year. They need to have a policy that is going to be there and they can rely on.”

Tags Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kirsten Gillibrand Pramila Jayapal Ro Khanna Rosa DeLauro Steven Horsford Suzan DelBene
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