News Law and Policy

Family Leave Advocates Not Impressed by ‘Pro-Family’ Policies Pitched by Rubio, Ivanka

Nicole Knight

Work and family advocates caution that child tax credits and deductions for child-care expenses are no replacement for paid family leave.

Ivanka Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) are teaming up for a private forum with members of Congress on “pro-family tax reform initiatives,” as the National Review reported Tuesday. 

Rubio reportedly will use the select gathering to push for an expanded child tax credit, which he has long backed. The first daughter, meanwhile, has emerged as the administration’s work-and-family czar, taking meetings with White House aides, lawmakers, and policy wonks in recent weeks.

It’s unclear whether the “pro-family” tax credits are part of a larger package of policies that includes paid parental leave, or whether the forum signals a shift away from the Trump administration’s proposal for six weeks of paid family leave for birth and adoptive parents. Ivanka Trump is now reportedly backing a deduction for child-care expenses.

Work and family advocates caution that child tax credits and deductions for child-care expenses are no replacement for paid family leave, pointing to more generous and effective paid leave policies that have been roundly rejected by GOP lawmakers.

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The United States remains the sole developed country without some form of paid family leave. Four percent of low-wage workers have access to paid family leave through their employers, compared to 23 percent of those who work for high wages. Research indicates paid leave provides a host of benefits, including keeping women in the workforce, improving maternal and child health, and increasing gender equity.

Rubio has backed a watered-down version of paid parental leave, co-sponsoring legislation to offer a nonrefundable, capped tax credit to employers who offer paid family leave. A recent report on paid leave by a bipartisan working group called Rubio’s bill a “windfall” for employers that already offer paid parental leave. The report’s authors said they were “skeptical that this proposal would move the needle much on improving access to paid leave.”

Rubio’s office didn’t respond to an emailed request for information.

Meanwhile, discussions are underway for Ivanka Trump to work with Ways and Means Chair Kevin Brady (R-TX) and other members on a series of tax breaks, including for families with child and dependent care expenses, as CQ Now reported.

Advocates for paid family leave said the Republican plans would fall well short of supporting working families.

“This is an apples and oranges situation,” Vicki Shabo, vice president with the National Partnership for Women & Families, told Rewire“Families needs both. They need some relief from the expenses that come with having a child, and they need affordable leave contemporaneous to when they’re taking that time off to replace the income they’re losing.”

The federal child tax credit, for example, is a maximum of $1,000 per child annually, and the credit, or potential refund, doesn’t coincide with when a parent might want to care for a new child.

Shabo said a better solution for working families is the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), which would offer up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a child, personal health condition, or a family member’s illness.

“We were quite critical of the administration’s plan, and one of the reasons was it only covers new parents,” she said. “In reality, more than 75 percent of people who take a family or medical leave in a year do so to care for a seriously ill or injured family member or take care of their own serious health condition. And that problem is only going to get worse.”

Anna L. Chu, vice president for income security and education with the National Women’s Law Center, told Rewire the tax code “can only go so far” on substantive policy matters, such as paid family leave or child care.

She said few businesses took advantage of a 2001 tax measure intended to encourage employers to provide child care. The plan was expected to cost about $1.4 billion over ten years, but cost about one-tenth of that because so few employers used the tax credit.

Even so, Trump’s budget proposes to increase spending on this tax credit to make it “more effective.”

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