A group of conservative senators is backing a proposal that calls for new parents to receive up to 12 weeks of paid leave by using some of their expected Social Security benefits.
Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, appeared before the Senate Finance subcommittee Wednesday to support a proposal released by the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) in January that would allow workers to get paid family leave in exchange for deferred retirement benefits for a short time.
"Common sense tells us that it's important for parents to spend time with their newborn. The bond that is formed when parents first lay eyes on their child only becomes stronger the longer the time they have to spend together," Ernst said in her opening remarks. "As a conservative, I want to craft paid leave policy that can not only attract consensus but is viable for families' employers and the economy, recognizing that working parents, by definition, are an essential part of many businesses."
Ivanka Trump, who backs the proposal as well, attended the hearing but did not testify.
“Preliminary estimates suggest that in order to offset the cost of 12 weeks of parental benefits, new parents electing this option would only need to defer their Social Security retirement benefits by six weeks,” according to the proposal.
For an average wage earner, parental benefits would replace about 45 percent of their wages, according to the proposal.
The proposal also notes that parents would be entitled to take the paid leave anytime in the first year of their newborn’s life.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is expected to introduce legislation on the issue this week, according to The Hill news site.
“We need to find a conservative solution to provide paid family leave in a fiscally responsible way,” Rubio said in a video emphasizing the importance of the issue.
“We are going to make it economical to raise children again,” he added, quoting former President Ronald Reagan from 1986.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, strongly opposes the plan Republicans are pushing, tweeting "Paid family leave for all American workers shouldn’t have to come at a cost to Social Security benefits. We can have both."
Gillibrand also testified at Wednesday's hearing in support of her own bill called the FAMILY Act that would cover leave for all workers with all family emergencies, not just new parents.
"The FAMILY Act is an earned benefit, meaning it travels with you, whether you’re working full time, part time, big company, small companies – wherever you live, wherever you work, " Gillibrand testified according to her office.
"Second, the FAMILY Act, the way we’ve written it, it’s really affordable. It is about the cost of a cup of coffee a week, for you and for your employer. It's about $2 a week, on average, for all employees. That is not a great deal of money to know that if your mother is dying, that you can be by her side – or you have a new infant, or a special needs child – that you can be there when they are needed," she said.
"It also gives you about 66 percent of your wages, guaranteed for up to three months, with a cap. So it’s affordable, it’s comprehensive, it’s an amount of time that can make a huge difference if you have an illness in your family or a new baby," Gillibrand said.
"The FAMILY Act does not create a false choice between having to take money early from your Social Security account. It keeps your Social Security account secure so your retirement benefits are there for you," she said.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Sen. Gillibrand supported the same plan the GOP senators are backing. In fact, she opposes it and has her own family leave proposal, called the FAMILY Act, which does not involve Social Security benefits.