Though a variety of polls have indicated a large majority of Americans support the idea of paid family and medical leave, disagreement about whether it should be mandated by the federal government and where the money should come to pay for it from remains strong.
In the end, it often comes down to a tug-of-war between what businesses can afford and the desire to ensure workers have the chance to provide for their family members, both financially and in person.
A plan by Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer that attempts to bridge this gap offering a tax credit to employers worth between an eighth and a quarter of wages paid to eligible workers during their absences. While the plan doesn’t guarantee a minimum number of paid days like those seen in other countries, it marks an initial step to address paid family leave, an area where the United States has long fallen short.
No other developed country lacks paid parental leave requirements at the federal level, according to the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Yet the U.S. has more working mothers and two-income families than ever before.
Fischer is correct in noting many pertinent federal laws were passed in an era with far different workforce participation. The Family and Medical Leave Act, for instance, wasn’t passed until 1993.
Yet, nearly a quarter of a century later, the Pew Research Center reports only 13 percent of Americans received specific employer-paid leave. Most received at least some pay from banking available time off prior to their absence, but the lowest-income workers were least likely to earn any pay while away from work – and nearly half reported having to go on public assistance to cover lost wages.
Forcing Americans to rely on public assistance is an expensive proposition that often creates a vicious circle for its inhabitants. In too many cases, increasing work or wages leads to an abrupt end of needed money, trapping families by limiting their only way to make ends meet to the social safety net.
To that end, Fischer’s plan also has a cap on earners that attempts to provide low and middle earners the benefit they’re less likely to have than their peers.
The good news is Fischer’s measure, which she’s billing as the nation’s first paid family leave plan, has been included in the Senate’s tax reform bill. Though that bill has some major flaws about which we harbor deep concerns, it’s better than its companion in the House – but faces a difficult road to passage.
Still, the senator has pushed a long-stated legislative goal closer to the finish line. Even if the Senate’s tax efforts fall apart, Fischer has crafted a worthwhile endeavor on paid family leave that aims to address an age-old shortcoming for American workers.