Repub­li­cans should sup­port paid fam­ily leave

Pres­i­dent Trump al­ready is pre­pared to reach across the aisle to help work­ing par­ents and their chil­dren

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Weekend Perspectives - Rick San­to­rum is a for­mer Repub­li­can U.S. sen­a­tor from Penn­syl­va­nia and com­men­ta­tor for CNN.

The com­mon re­frain since the midterms has been that a di­vided Congress won’t or can’t get any­thing done. I dis­agree. The elec­tion re­sults pro­vide a unique op­por­tu­nity to put the fo­cus on work­ing fam­i­lies, and one pol­icy with a real chance is paid fam­ily leave.

As I have been telling Repub­li­cans for years, we need to pay at­ten­tion to our core sup­port­ers: hard-work­ing fam­i­lies. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump gets this, and he has gal­va­nized work­ing Amer­i­cans like no Repub­li­can be­fore him.

To­day, mid­dle-in­come Amer­i­can fam­i­lies are squeezed from all di­rec­tions. Sup­port­ing the fam­i­lies raising the next gen­er­a­tion is vi­tal to our na­tion’s long-term suc­cess and pros­per­ity. Healthy, well-be­haved chil­dren pre­pared to learn will cre­ate a bet­ter learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment for all of our chil­dren. We must face the re­al­ity that our laws and our cul­ture have made it much harder for moms and dads to suc­ceed at that task. It’s time to give par­ents the flex­i­bil­ity they need to be with them at the most cru­cial times of their lives.

In so many ways, young par­ents to­day are do­ing a bet­ter job build­ing strong fam­i­lies. New re­search, for ex­am­ple, shows that mil­len­ni­als are driv­ing down the di­vorce rate. But a rapidly de­clin­ing fer­til­ity rate means that while these mar­riages are more last­ing, they are not cre­at­ing fam­i­lies big enough to main­tain our econ­omy.

Women cite a lack of paid leave as one of the big­gest rea­sons for not hav­ing as many chil­dren as they would like. Though es­ti­mates vary widely as to how many moth­ers lack ac­cess to paid leave — it de­pends on how gen­er­ously the term is de­fined — the Bureau of La­bor Statis­tics es­ti­mates that 85 per­cent do not have a de­fined ben­e­fit. Also, one in four women re­turn to work less than two weeks af­ter giv­ing birth. They sim­ply can’t af­ford to miss the pay­check.

More im­por­tant than eco­nomics, paid leave in­creases bond­ing time in the most cru­cial months of a child’s life. Re­searchers say that the lack of bond­ing time with a new child can lead to long-term mental health problems as well as to re­duced over­all po­ten­tial and hap­pi­ness. These im­pair­ments can also re­sult in weak­ened fam­ily ties and a more dif­fi­cult life for the child.

When the last na­tional fam­i­lyleave pol­icy, the Fam­ily and Med­i­cal Leave Act (FMLA), was de­bated in 1993, I op­posed the law’s man­date on em­ploy­ers and its in­abil­ity to cover the typ­i­cal Amer­i­can worker who can­not af­ford to take un­paid leave to care for a loved one. But a lot has changed since then.

To­day’s work­ing fam­i­lies face new re­al­i­ties and strug­gles. Nearly 70 per­cent of moth­ers with chil­dren un­der the age of 18 are work­ing, and mil­lions of homes are headed by sin­gle moth­ers jug­gling care for their fam­i­lies while try­ing to make ends meet. Mean­while, the cost of child care has grown out of pro­por­tion to the growth in other house­hold costs; in 33 states the cost of child care ex­ceeds the cost of in-state col­lege tu­ition and fees.

Democrats have long ad­vo­cated paid leave, but in light of to­day’s fam­ily dy­nam­ics, Repub­li­cans are warm­ing to the idea. Mr. Trump has long sup­ported it, and his daugh­ter Ivanka has been an out­spo­ken ad­vo­cate. In Congress, Sens. Marco Ru­bio, R-Fla., Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Mike Lee, RU­tah, along with Rep. Ann Wag­ner, R-Mo., in the House, are work­ing on new ideas for a fed­eral paid­parental-leave pro­gram. They, among oth­ers, rec­og­nize the se­ri­ous im­pact it would have on fam­i­lies, chilren and thus the coun­try. This all fol­lows the paid-leave tax credit for busi­nesses in­cluded in the re­cent tax-re­form bill.

This year, I joined the Bi­par­ti­san Pol­icy Cen­ter’s Task Force on Paid Fam­ily Leave, along with for­mer Demo­cratic Sen. Chris Dodd and Maria Con­tr­eras-Sweet, the for­mer ad­min­is­tra­tor of the U.S. Small Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion, to pro­pose an ac­tion­able, fis­cally re­spon­si­ble fed­eral leave pro­gram that will help Amer­i­cans bal­ance work and fam­ily.

Repub­li­cans need to roll up their sleeves, reach across the aisle, and get a new fed­eral paid-leave pro­gram en­acted. Paid parental leave is good pol­icy and good pol­i­tics.

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