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 TrumpClinton and Ocasio-Cortez joke about Kushner's alleged use of WhatsApp Missouri Gov. declares state of emergency amid severe flooding Swalwell on Hicks testimony: 'She's going to have to tell us who she lied for' in Trump admin 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 TrumpHillicon Valley: Kushner accused of using WhatsApp, personal email for official work | White House rejects request for Trump-Putin communications | Facebook left 'hundreds of millions' of passwords unsecured | Tech pressured to root out extremism Cummings says Ivanka Trump not preserving all official communications Kushner accused of using WhatsApp, personal email to conduct official business: report 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 RubioRubio's pragmatic thinking on China The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump feuds heat up Rubio to introduce legislation to keep Supreme Court at 9 seats 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 GillibrandOn The Money: Trump rolls dice on uncertain economy | 737 crisis tests Boeing's clout in Washington | Watchdog group pushes 2020 candidates for 10 years of tax returns Watchdog group calls on 2020 candidates to release 10 years of tax returns Poll: Gillibrand, de Blasio have favorable ratings under 30 percent among New Yorkers 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.