Congressional Democrats are hoping to leverage President Trump’s seemingly abandoned campaign promise for paid family leave into support for their far more inclusive and expansive plan.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) announced Tuesday that they had reintroduced their Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act mandating guaranteed paid family and medical leave at two-thirds of an employee’s salary for up to 12 weeks.
Gillibrand’s office confirmed that the reintroduced FAMILY Act is substantively identical to prior versions that she and DeLauro introduced, down to the 0.2 percent payroll tax increase or “earned benefit” that employers and employees would each pay for the plan without adding to the federal budget. At that rate, an employee with a salary of $50,000 would contribute $1.92 per week or $100 a year.
Gillibrand characterized the absence of paid leave as hurting families and business alike.
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“The business community knows that if we had a national paid leave plan, it would put a lot of money, potentially $21 billion, back into the economy every single year—all for the cost of a cup of coffee a week,” she told reporters on a press call unveiling the latest FAMILY Act.
Gillibrand and DeLauro touted the inclusivity of their legislation.
FAMILY Act benefits would apply regardless of gender identity and extend not only to caring for a new child but also for a sick family member, they said. Part-time and full-time employees would be able to transfer the benefits from job to job. And adoptive parents, LGBTQ couples, and fathers would also qualify.
Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, lauded the approach.
“The FAMILY Act has components that are absolutely essential,” she said on the call. “We need a paid family and medical leave law that checks all the boxes.”
Gillibrand and DeLauro were optimistic that their plan would gain traction, unlike prior versions that remained mired in GOP indifference. No Republicans in the GOP-controlled U.S. House of Representatives or U.S. Senate joined as original co-sponsors to the new FAMILY Act, but that could change amid the public’s growing appetite for paid leave.
National Partnership for Women & Families polling from last year found that voters across party lines overwhelmingly supported up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, as prescribed under Gillibrand’s and DeLauro’s bill.
Both lawmakers looked beyond the legislative branch, recalling President Trump’s campaign promise for paid leave as potential leverage.
Gillibrand referenced Ivanka Trump’s “excellent” Republican National Convention speech on paid leave and equal pay.
“I’m hopeful that the administration will reach out to work with me on a national paid leave plan,” she said.
But the White House has been noticeably silent on paid leave since Inauguration Day.
The White House’s revamped website, which almost immediately dropped pages on the Affordable Care Act, climate change, and LGBTQ rights and replaced them with dog-whistle pledges to wield “law and order” over protesters and immigrants, does not include a dedicated page for the president’s narrow paid leave benefits plan he touted during the campaign.
The benefits touted by Trump fell far short of the FAMILY Act. As part of a larger child-care plan, Trump pledged to deliver “six paid weeks of paid maternity leave” for new mothers who give birth—presumably excluding new fathers, some LGBTQ couples, and people caring for a sick family member. The paid maternity leave “benefit would only equal what would be paid to a laid-off employee, which is much less than a workers’ [sic] regular paycheck,” according to his campaign’s website.
The Trump campaign promised to fully offset the plan’s price tag “by recapturing fraud and improper payments in the unemployment insurance program,” which Mother Jones reported didn’t add up. Trump claimed to have worked with House Republican women on the plan, but as Rewire reported, he didn’t appear to do so.
Trump viewed paid family leave as a threat to business, rather than the boon that Gillibrand described.
“I think we have to keep our country very competitive, so you have to be careful of it,” he warned in October 2015.
David Bolotsky, founder and CEO of UncommonGoods, said on the call that businesses would benefit from the certainty that comes with a federal standard.
“I would not underestimate the importance of the state-by-state campaigns. If you are a large national employer, it is a major headache to deal with a patchwork of many different states having conflicting legislation on paid family leave,” he said. “As more and more states come on board with different policies … I believe many larger corporations are going to start to pressure the federal government to come up with a national plan.”