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Trump’s Proposed Parental Leave Budget Falls Short For Working Families

Six weeks of paid parental leave in the president’s proposed budget leaves the burden on states to pay for it and determine who’s eligible.

Trump’s Proposed Parental Leave Budget Falls Short For Working Families
[Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images]

Yesterday the Trump administration released its budget proposal, “The New Foundation for American Greatness,” which boosts defense and security spending and includes $54 billion in reductions to non-defense programs such as Medicaid.

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The budget also makes good on another campaign promise to provide paid parental leave. The proposal, which appears in the analysis from the Office of Management and Budget, offers some more details about the plan and how it will be funded.

As a candidate, Trump proposed six weeks of paid leave for birth mothers whose employers didn’t offer a benefit. As president, he told a joint session of Congress that he wanted new parents to have access to paid family leave, but hadn’t offered a proposal. In the absence of one, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced the Family Act to Congress that proposes that a nationwide insurance program be created to offer up to 12 weeks of leave for family and medical purposes with partial pay to workers of any gender.

Trump’s budget now states:

The Administration proposes establishing a new benefit within the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program to provide up to six weeks paid leave to mothers, fathers, and adoptive parents. States are expected to adjust their UI tax structures to maintain sufficient balances in their Unemployment Trust Fund accounts.

So the benefit extends to all gender birth and adoptive parents, which is an improvement over the original. It’s paid for through existing unemployment insurance programs, as well as by cuts to other social programs. With the responsibility on the states, an NPR report points out that it could require some states to raise taxes “to build up their trust fund balances.”

The NPR report also notes that eliminating improper unemployment insurance payments and implementing programs to get people back to work more quickly could bring in as much as $6.2 billion to offset some unemployment insurance taxes.

Ellen Bravo, co-executive director of Family Values @ Work notes that there are several problems with the proposal, not the least of which is that unemployment insurance offices are already understaffed and ill-equipped to handle this kind of program.

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Other issues include:

  • Half of FMLA (unpaid leave) recipients currently take it for their own health, which would not be covered in this proposal.
  • In 22 states, the average Unemployment Insurance benefit is less than one-third of the state’s average wage. 
  • Unemployment Insurance disproportionately excludes some workers most likely to need family leave and least able to afford unpaid time off. Currently only 14% of the U.S. workers have access to paid family leave through their employers, and the BLS finds that less than 40% have personal medical leave through an employer-provided temporary disability program. Hourly and part-time workers may not be eligible for unemployment.

Bravo notes that successes in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island (as well as in new models being developed by other states) are helping pave the way for a sustainable, affordable federal proposal. However, letting states design their own plan and determine who is eligible could exclude same-sex or unmarried couples, she adds.

As such, Bravo suggests creating a federal proposal that “meets the ‘Triple A’ test: accessible, affordable, and adequate for all workers who need time to care for themselves, a new child, or for a seriously ill family member.”  The FAMILY Act, which is before Congress now has the potential to meet those benchmarks, she says.

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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