Employment Law Daily Rubio unveils bill that trades Social Security benefits for new parent leave
Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Rubio unveils bill that trades Social Security benefits for new parent leave

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Representative Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) have unveiled proposed legislation that would establish a national paid parental leave program within the Social Security Administration that would provide partial wage replacement for workers who temporarily need to take time off from their jobs to care for and bond with a newborn infant or newly adopted child. Rubio introduced the legislation in the Senate on August 1. Wagner plans to introduce her House bill in September.

Trading Social Security for parental leave. The Economic Security for New Parents Act, S. 3345, would give parents at least two months of paid leave by pulling from their future social security benefits, the bill’s sponsors noted. Workers would then be required to delay taking social security for three to six months when they retire. The bill would be the first new option for families since the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which provides unpaid leave for twelve weeks to care for a family member.

Notably, the Economic Security for New Parents Act would be effective December 31 2019, but would also sunset on December 31, 2023, giving it only a three-year shelf-life.

“We are the only industrialized country in the world that does not offer access to paid maternity leave,” Ann Wagner said in a statement. “My legislation will enable families to make their own financial planning decisions by expanding access to paid leave benefits without raising taxes, new mandates, growing the government, or hurting the economic opportunities of both employers and workers. This plan will not only lessen the challenges of being a new mom or dad, but it will incentivize parents to stay in the workforce. ”

How it would work. Parents who take the leave option would receive a Social Security benefit to use for at least two months of leave across their household. The benefit amount would be large enough that nearly all parents making below median family income of about $70,000 would be able to take two months’ leave at more than 70 percent of their wages, according to Senator Rubio’s summary of the bill.

Many parents, especially those with low incomes, would be able to finance longer than three months of leave with the amount of the benefit. In two-parent households the leave would be applied jointly, so that for example, one parent could use the benefit for two weeks of leave, while the other could use their individual benefit, plus the other parent’s benefit, for at least six weeks, according to the summary. “Stay-at-home” parents with an earnings history that meets eligibility requirements would also be able to take the leave option.

Not so fast … Debra L. Ness, President, National Partnership for Women & Families, quickly raised concerns about the bill, though, saying that it “would exacerbate rather than help solve the enormous challenges families face.” She suggested that “a program that only covers parents caring for new children, provides no leave for family care and personal medical needs, and forces parents to choose between paid leave and retirement security is absolutely the wrong way to go.” Ness characterized the measure as “reckless, irresponsible, and ill-conceived,” noting also that it would really amount to a Social Security benefit cut for the working people who need Social Security the most.

Benefits cut. Ness said that imposing a Social Security penalty for taking paid leave is punitive and unnecessary—an Urban Institute analysis found it would result in a 6-percent benefit cut, equal to more than $11,000, for a typical parent of two. Women, people of color, and lower-wage workers would be harmed most because Social Security is more often their main source of income in retirement.

Very limited coverage. Moreover, Ness pointed out that the Economic Security for New Parents Act would cover only leave for parents to care for new children, excluding 75 percent of leaves taken for reasons covered by the FMLA, such as those who need leave to care for a seriously ill loved one, to recover from illness or injury, or for military care. “These are new or expecting working mothers-with life-threatening complications; working people with serious injuries; and older people forced to remain in the workforce to pay the rent and put food on the table,” Ness said. “Excluding them from a paid leave plan is unacceptable and would create cruel ironies for people who use paid parental leave to care for children now and face serious family or personal medical needs later.”

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