Paid leave for parents is a massive topic amongst politicians and parents as the U.S. gears up for another contentious election cycle, and now, senators Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Mike Lee (Utah) of the GOP have a parental leave proposal of their own.
The legislation, which they’ve dubbed The Cradle Act, would allow new parents to choose between one, two, and three months of paid parental leave after they’ve birthed or adopted a child, according to The Hill. On the surface, it sounds great. The government would help parents experience valuable time with their children during some of the most critical stages of life. Numerous studies, including one published in the London Journal of Primary Care, argue that early child-parent bonding improves childhood brain development and could reduce the likelihood of mental health conditions later in life. Cool, we all agree. However, this plan has a darker side; it punishes the most economically vulnerable by making them postpone retirement assistance.
Under The Cradle Act, the government would defer new parents’ Social Security benefits by two months for every month of parental leave taken. So, if you took three months of paid paternal leave, you would have to wait six months until you could collect Social Security down the road.
“It’s a tradeoff, but it’s a tradeoff that I think many will take,” Lee said, according to The Hill.
Lee and Ernst argue these deferments will help pay for the program in the long run, but what they’re not admitting is that the nation’s most impoverished — those who aren’t offered parental leave through their employers, can’t afford to pay for childcare, and likely don’t have alternative retirement savings — will ultimately pay the price.
Their idea isn’t new, either. Ivanka Trump and Florida Senator Marco Rubio proposed a similar bill last year, though, according to Politico, theirs didn’t defer Social Security collection as harshly as The Cradle Act would. Trump has also asked for her father to include a one-time, $1 billion investment for childcare into the 2020 budget, according to NPR.
Both pieces of legislation are wildly different from two Democratic presidential candidates’ parental leave and childcare proposals. Last month, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren unveiled her Universal Child Care and Early Learning Plan in which she argued it is paramount for families to have access to affordable childcare and education. Her plan to boost the number of resources available to families would be free for millions and promises that no family will pay more than seven percent of their income on childcare. It would also ensure that childcare and preschool workers received fair compensation for their work. Warren hopes to pay for her plans by increasing taxes on the nation’s wealthiest.
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand also has a proposed family leave plan, which she’s titled Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. The proposal would offer new parents and people with severe medical conditions 12 weeks of leave while providing them with partial pay (66% of their monthly wages). Gillibrand’s hopes to pay for the FAMILY Act through “small employee and employer payroll contributions.” She also believes the plan will help generate more money for the economy in the long run as people will now have more options, more resources, and steadier incomes.
We can pick apart aspects of all of these plans, but there’s one glaring issue we shouldn’t gloss over: Making people choose between parental leave and their retirement plan is cruel.
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