Fam­ily leave gets a boost

Our view: Don­ald Trump’s plan for ma­ter­nity leave is rel­a­tively small and its details prob­lem­atic, but as sym­bol­ism, it could prove enor­mous

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

Pity the poor re­porters cov­er­ing this week’s an­nounce­ment by Don­ald Trump that he wants to guar­an­tee new mothers six weeks of paid leave. What’s the lead? Is it his com­plete and ut­ter de­par­ture from con­ser­va­tive or­tho­doxy on the role of govern­ment in busi­ness de­ci­sions? The soft­en­ing in­flu­ence of his el­dest daugh­ter Ivanka? Or per­haps the hol­low­ness of the pro­posal, par­tic­u­larly the claim it won’t cost tax­pay­ers a dime or ad­versely im­pact the deficit?

Here’s what it prob­a­bly should be: The lat­est ev­i­dence that the United States may soon be catch­ing up with the rest of the in­dus­tri­al­ized world in rec­og­niz­ing how es­sen­tial paid fam­ily leave is to the health of ba­bies and mothers. The mech­a­nisms may vary, but coun­tries eco­nom­i­cally on par with the U.S. ei­ther pro­vide or re­quire paid leave — as lit­tle as10 weeks or as much as 39 weeks in the case of the United King­dom.

Mr. Trump’s ver­sion is, in a word, piti­ful, com­pared to the in­ter­na­tional stan­dard — just six weeks of leave at likely much less than full (per­haps more like half ) salary, given that it’s based on unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits. How would he pay for it? That may be the sil­li­est part of all: He ex­pects to find bil­lions of dol­lars in sav­ings through a crack­down on unem­ploy­ment in­sur­ance fraud.

Elim­i­nat­ing fraud would be won­der­ful, of course. Stud­ies have sug­gested there may be sev­eral bil­lion dol­lars of it go­ing on. But even if all of it is un­cov­ered overnight, it’s un­likely to cover the bill, and even so, it means em­ploy­ers would have to con­tinue over­pay­ing for unem­ploy­ment in­sur­ance and would thus be sub­si­diz­ing the ma­ter­nity ben­e­fit. In re­al­ity, Mr. Trump ought to ad­mit that this is a so­cial safety net ex­pan­sion that will ul­ti­mately cost tax­pay­ers — but that in the long term, the re­wards pro­vided by the ben­e­fits will more than jus­tify their cost.

For­mer Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton has of­fered a more ro­bust plan that she says will be fi­nanced by re­quir­ing more af­flu­ent tax­pay­ers to pay more. We are skep­ti­cal of that prom­ise as well, given the re­luc­tance within Congress (at least as it’s cur­rently con­sti­tuted) to raise taxes on the wealthy. But at least her plan in­cludes fa­thers and same-sex part­ners who, at least since last we looked, had pretty es­sen­tial roles to play in nur­tur­ing a child.

States in­clud­ing Mary­land have been grap­pling with the fam­ily leave is­sue in re­cent years as well. That Ms. Clin­ton is now in­volved is ap­pro­pri­ate, given that un­paid fam­ily leave — a once quite con­tro­ver­sial fed­eral man­date — was signed into law by her hus­band in1993. Of course, that took place only af­ter nearly a Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump, joined here by his daugh­ter, Ivanka, this week pro­posed a new plan for paid ma­ter­nity leave. decade of de­bate in Congress and a veto by Mr. Clin­ton’s pre­de­ces­sor, Ge­orge H.W. Bush. Cal­i­for­nia, New York, New Jer­sey and Rhode Is­land have adopted paid fam­ily leave man­dates with New York’s con­sid­ered the most gen­er­ous (cov­er­ing up to two-thirds of salary for 12 weeks).

We will be the first to ad­mit the is­sue can be fraught: How long? How much? And who should pay? But both po­lit­i­cal par­ties ought to em­brace the goal of pro­vid­ing work­ing par­ents an op­por­tu­nity to pro­vide for their new­est fam­ily mem­bers. Like en­sur­ing chil­dren have ac­cess to ba­sic health care, nu­tri­tion, de­cent hous­ing and ed­u­ca­tion, this ought to be a bare-min­i­mum stan­dard in the wealth­i­est na­tion on the planet.

Repub­li­cans have long com­plained that not all busi­nesses can af­ford paid fam­ily leave. Fair enough. But the an­swer can’t be to dis­ad­van­tage cer­tain chil­dren and mothers be­cause of this mis­for­tune. How much of a min­i­mum paid fam­ily leave ben­e­fit should be re­quired of em­ploy­ers and how much should be sub­si­dized and by whom? It’s the same dif­fi­cult ques­tion that sur­rounded the Af­ford­able Care Act and health in­sur­ance.

Mr. Trump’s plan may only be a po­lit­i­cally-mo­ti­vated ges­ture (and likely roundly ig­nored by many mem­bers of his own party), but it does move the de­bate from whether paid fam­ily leave should be a fed­eral pol­icy to howbest to ac­com­plish the task. Ms. Clin­ton’s plan may be more ap­peal­ing, but, in the year of Sen. Bernie San­ders and his lib­eral up­ris­ing against the eco­nomic oli­garchy, it doesn’t rep­re­sent nearly as much risk-tak­ing for a Demo­crat.

MATT MCCLAIN/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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