Does Trump's Paid-Leave Policy Go Far Enough?

Photo: AP/REX/Shutterstock.
As expected (and teased for months), President Donald Trump's budget proposal includes a paid parental-leave benefit for working Americans. The detailed 2018 federal budget, released Tuesday morning, seeks federal funding to create a program that would provide six weeks of paid parental leave for new mothers and fathers, as well as adoptive parents.
The benefit aims to mandate paid leave "so all families can afford to take time to recover from childbirth and bond with a new child without worrying about paying their bills."
According to CNN, Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and adviser, was the chief proponent of the proposal. States would be required to provide six weeks of parental leave, paid for through the Labor Department's unemployment-insurance program. It's estimated it would cost the federal government $1 billion in 2018, and $2 billion a year starting in 2020 — totaling $19 billion over the next 10 years.
The U.S. is the only developed country without federally mandated paid maternity leave. At the state level, only three have paid-leave policies funded by state insurance (with New York and D.C. soon to join their ranks).
Trump's proposal sets up an interesting dilemma for those fighting for paid leave: On the one hand, six weeks is surely better than nothing. On the other, it is paltry compared to mandated paid-leave programs, especially in developed countries, around the world. The UN's International Labour Organization recommends 14 weeks.
Ahead, 13 women's rights advocates — mothers and non-mothers, from both sides of the aisle — weigh in with their thoughts on Trump's proposal:
"The first question you need to ask when evaluating this plan is whether a worker with a sick spouse, a seriously injured child, or a dying parent would be able to take the time off from work that their family needs without losing their paycheck or their job. It must be affordable for working families, it must level the playing field for small businesses, and it must treat all workers throughout the country the same. These are the biggest tests for whether or not it is a workable paid leave program. Unfortunately, the president’s plan falls woefully short of passing that test. This plan is a nonstarter because families would still have to choose between a paycheck and their families at the moment when they can least afford it. I encourage the President and all of my colleagues in both parties to support the FAMILY Act, which is a comprehensive paid leave bill modeled on successful state programs that businesses and workers widely support." -Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, sponsor of the FAMILY Act
"I’ve been working on paid family leave for years with my Strong Families Act, and it’s encouraging to see the president highlight this issue as a priority." -Republican Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska, sponsor of the Strong Families Act
"We can’t look at paid parental leave in a vacuum. Trump’s budget makes deep cuts to social programs that women working in low-wage jobs depend on to provide food and health care to their families. Under this scheme, a woman working at Walmart will face huge cuts to SNAP benefits and Medicaid — programs her family counts on. She will still have no access to paid time off to care for a family member with a serious illness. Women in low-wage jobs need comprehensive paid family leave that covers a full 12 weeks and can be used to care for a new baby or for taking care of a sick child or parent." -Andrea Dehlendorf, co-director, OUR Walmart
"While I am happy to see this administration address the dire need for parental leave in this country, the realities of dropping a six-week-old baby off at daycare prove this policy to be sorely inadequate. Almost every country around the world has found ways of making parental leave the priority it should be for their people, with up to a year off and more, and for good reason — the benefits to kids and to society are immeasurable. Giving every American baby enough time to be be nurtured past the point of vulnerability should be a priority, not an afterthought with the kind of unstable funding we see proposed in this budget. We can do better for our children. Let’s give one less tax cut to the rich and use that money to provide American babies the start they need and deserve in life. We will all be better for it." -Amber Scorah, who advocates for parental leave after losing her son Karl on his first day at daycare.
"The Trump administration is walking into a hornet's nest with this plan. Here's the problem: What do stay-at-home mothers get out of this? Bupkis. Is a non-working mother's time more valuable than a working mother's time six weeks after giving birth? No. The government shouldn't be picking mommy winners and losers. A much better route, if Republicans are interested in equitably expanding benefits for families, with both working and non-working mothers, would be to increase existing tax credits that would free up more resources in those families to use as they see fit. President Trump has enough problems; he doesn't need to get involved in mommy wars." -Amanda Carpenter, former Communications Director to Sen. Ted Cruz
"We welcome the opportunity to finally have a national paid-leave system in the United States. However, if there are not national standards, some states will offer parents close to nothing — or nothing at all. We need to ensure that every parent can expect — and rely on — paid leave, and that our nation's parents aren't dependent on a state-by-state system that allows loopholes to opt out. We need to be clear that underpaid or unpaid leave for most parents is the equivalent of no leave at all, and that six weeks is just a first step in the right direction." -Gary Barker, President and CEO, Promundo

Giving every American baby enough time to be nurtured past the point of vulnerability should be a priority.

Amber Scorah
"The Trump administration’s paid parental-leave proposal would do more harm than good by, among other things, offering only six weeks of paid leave and only to new parents. It is a phony and reckless plan that leaves behind millions of people who need time to address their own serious health issues or to care for seriously ill or injured family members while putting the onus of providing leave on states and making drastic cuts that would hurt women, families, and communities." -Vicki Shabo, vice president at the National Partnership for Women & Families
"Donald Trump’s new budget includes a proposal for the world’s worst parental-leave plan. His plan gives parents a paltry six weeks of time with new babies, a far cry from what medical professionals agree is needed to care for an infant, and leaves out millions of people who care for the seriously ill. Six weeks of parental leave would leave the U.S. behind 96% of all nations. It’s a disappointing bone to throw to the millions of people who will lose health care, nutritional assistance, and child-care tax credits in this profoundly anti-family budget." -Katie Bethell, executive director of Paid Leave for the United States
"Fairygodboss supports any legislation that provides financial support to new parents after they welcome a new child into their lives. Today, more than 80% of women in the United States have to choose between taking adequate time to heal from childbirth and bond with their new child on the one hand, and going without an income on the other hand. That forces too many people to choose between a rock and a hard place, and hurts women's labor force participation rates, in particular. Having a financial safety net for six weeks is something that most American taxpayers support, and we hope that Congress can sign into law some form of federally mandated leave — something that has eluded the American families for far too long." -Georgene Huang, cofounder of Fairygodboss

Is a non-working mother's time more valuable than a working mother's time six weeks after giving birth? No.

Amanda Carpenter
"The country urgently needs and wants a paid-leave program, but the Trump budget proposal as described fails to deliver, even for parents of new children. Many states would provide a benefit only by cutting benefits for others and limiting eligibility, and low wage-replacement rates of unemployment programs mean too little money as well as too little time for millions of low- and middle-income parents. The proposal also excludes more than three-quarters of those needing leave — even those who aren’t parents have parents or partners or loved ones who may need care, or may themselves experience a disease or injury. Fortunately, there's an alternative proposal before us, the FAMILY Act, which would create an accessible, affordable, and sustainable national baseline, building off a successful model in several states." -Ellen Bravo, co-executive director of Family Values @ Work
"I’m thrilled that we are finally talking about paid leave, but this proposal misses the mark. It’s not a 'baby step' if it’s headed in the wrong direction.
"The good: It’s gender-neutral.
"The bad: First, it’s too short; 12 weeks is the absolute minimum. Second, it’s for new parents only; all workers are human and need leave for family illness and emergency. Third, it places the burden of an unfunded mandate on individual states’ unemployment-insurance programs. That will be difficult for lower-population states to sustain on their own. And it will likely mean that in some states, the benefit will be so low that many low-income workers won't to be able to afford the time off.
"We need a real plan that is national, gender-neutral, substantial, and comprehensive for all families, and that doesn’t place unsustainable burdens on the states. Fun fact: The FAMILY Act would do all of that." -Jessica Shortall, author of Work. Pump. Repeat. and TEDx speaker on the case for paid family leave.
"From coast to coast, American families are trapped between the need to provide care for their young children or sick loved ones and the necessity of earning income. Our nation has a responsibility to address this crisis, and yet, the Trump administration’s proposal falls far short. An adequate plan would provide paid leave to working people recovering from temporary disability, offer at least 12 weeks of paid leave to new parents, and enable Americans caring for aging parents to take leave as well. Coupled with President Trump’s savage budget cuts to other critical supports for working families like health care and education, this budget — the epitome of his 'phony populism' — leaves American families far worse off than where we started." -Heather McGhee, president of Demos
"The call for paid family leave has been gaining steam with California and New York both passing policies. But Trump's plan is the stingiest, skimpiest paid family-leave proposal we've seen. It would lower the bar, offering a far shorter leave than what states are already passing, and far shorter than what doctors agree new parents need. And it's built into Trump's vicious budget proposal that would cut away at the supports families depend on, including cutting more than a trillion dollars from Medicaid, food stamps, and other assistance for low-income families. Trump's flimsy paid family-leave policy would be cold comfort to families devastated by the rest of his budget." -Nelini Stamp, organizing director for Working Families Party

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