Ivanka must recalibrate her paid family leave plan to make it tenable

On Wednesday, Ivanka Trump headed to Capitol Hill to meet with key Republican members about pushing the paid family leave initiatives that was originally proposed (and ultimately removed from) President TrumpDonald John TrumpCould Donald Trump and Boris Johnson be this generation's Reagan-Thatcher? Merkel backs Democratic congresswomen over Trump How China's currency manipulation cheats America on trade MORE’s 2017 budget.  

I wish her luck, but it’s going to be a tough sell. Why? Because Trump, like many others in Congress who support the initiative, are all missing a crucial point.

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Trump wants to expand the current Family and Medical Leave Act to offer six weeks of paid leave to new parents. Its funding would be provided through unemployment insurance.

"As a mother myself, of three young children, I know how hard it is to work while raising a family,” Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpEXCLUSIVE: Career officials rebut claims of White House interference in security clearance process Meghan McCain calls Trump rally 'really dystopian' Liberal think tank: GOP paid parental leave proposals are too narrow MORE previously said in this CNN report. “And I also know that I'm far more fortunate than most. American families need relief. Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties, they should be the norm."

Ivanka Trump is right about this. And she has allies on both sides of the aisle. Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRepublican lawmakers ask Trump not to delay Pentagon cloud-computing contract Overnight Defense: US shoots down Iranian drone | Pentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia | Trump mulls Turkey sanctions | Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract EU official in Canada says he feels 'at home' there because no one was shouting 'send him back' MORE (R-Fla.) has offered up his plan to provide paid leave that would be mostly funded by allowing workers to draw down on their Social Security benefits.

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants Biden, Harris set for second Democratic debate showdown Rand Paul accuses Jon Stewart of being 'part of left-wing mob' after criticism over 9/11 victim fund MORE (D-N.Y.) loves the idea so much that she wants to double down and offer 12 weeks of paid leave not only to new parents but to people caring for family members with serious medical conditions.

Although there's widespread support for some type of government assistance for working mothers — and some states and cities have already mandated that employers provide time off — the current initiatives proposed by Trump, Rubio, Gillibrand and others are facing stiff opposition because, regardless of what’s on the table, the costs would be substantial.

“My impression is the White House is increasingly engaged on this and making it a priority as they look forward to what is possible this year — assuming one thinks bipartisan legislation is possible in this climate,” a senior GOP aide told a Washington Post reporter. “There are folks who know the (Republican) party needs a position but are unsure of how to craft a policy, and there are still folks who don’t think there is a federal nexus to be played.”

There is an answer to the family leave issue — both for Republicans and Democrats. It just requires its supporters to consider a more-targeted approach. Instead of providing the federal benefit to all workers, the legislation should focus on just half of them: the more than 50 percent of the workforce employed by small businesses.

The fact is that most large employers in this country already provide generous paid family leave. Why? Because they can afford to.

Paid time-off has been a hot issue over the past few years, particularly as employees from the millennial generation — who, in countless surveys, have vocally supported flexibility, mobility, independence and work-life balance — are now becoming a greater share of the workforce. So companies, particularly big companies, have responded. 

Netflix, for example, provides up to a year off for its employees who are new parents. Hilton hotels offer up to 10 weeks of paid time-off for hourly workers. Tech firms like Facebook, Microsoft and Google all provide variations of unlimited vacation plans.

These are just the big names but, in my anecdotal research over the past few years, I haven’t encountered a single large company that doesn't offer some form of generous time-off for their employees, particularly for new parents or those caring for others with a medical issue.

So that takes care of half of the workforce. Knowing that, we should be focusing on the other half.

Those would be the employees at small firms — let's say with less than 500 people, because that’s how the Small Business Administration defines them. Firms like those are struggling to compete with the generous benefits offered by larger competitors; they can't afford to offer the kind of paid time-off that big companies provide.

A federal paid time-off plan for new parents that's targeted only at small businesses would help level the playing field. It would reduce small companies’ costs. It would allow them to hire more people and grow their businesses.

It would also be done at half the cost of all of plans currently under consideration because only half of the workforce would qualify — the half that actually needs it.

A federal paid time-off bill doesn’t have to be so expensive. Not as long as it is focused on the right people.

Gene Marks is founder of The Marks Group, a small-business consulting firm. He has written on economic and financial issues for The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Guardian. He also frequently appears on CNBC, Fox Business and MSNBC.