Some conservative groups are rallying behind proposals aimed at relieving the financial stress of caring for newborns.
Republican lawmakers have introduced a pair of bills that would allow young parents to draw from Social Security in the early months in a child's life. In exchange for the payments, mothers and fathers would agree to delay retirement. Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) teamed up with Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) to write the Child Rearing and Development Leave Empowerment Act (CRADLE Act). He is now working to sell the idea of federal legislation to conservatives wary of entitlement programs. He emphasized that the bill is budget neutral and would help private citizens to overcome public policies that expanded the "modern welfare state [and] correspondingly weakened the family."
"We want to reduce, however modestly, the restrictions that are added to the backs of families," Lee told a room of activists at a meeting inside Hillsdale College's Kirby Center. "We want to give moms and dads the option to stay home for one, two, or three months … by delaying retirement a little bit."
Lawmakers pushing for paid family leave have won some allies in the conservative movement. Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, said family formation is in crisis, pointing to dwindling birth rates, increased single parent households, and the fact that as many as 25 percent of new working mothers are forced to return to work in as little as two weeks. These trends are a recipe for dependence on government assistance programs and the expansion of the welfare state.
"Economic concerns are driving factor behind impediments to family formation," Schilling said. "When the family is in decline, so is liberty and the economy."
He said if policymakers do not fill the vacuum with conservative reforms, liberals will. Democrats have introduced legislation to raise payroll taxes to pay for three months of leave at two-thirds of wages. Lee's bill, as well as the New Parents Act, sponsored by Rep. Ann Wagner (R., Mo.) in the House and Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) in the Senate, would provide a similar benefit without raising taxes.
Rubio staffer Dan Holler said the bill is designed for "maximum flexibility." The GOP bills differ in their approach to paid leave. The New Parents Act only requires the parent to have worked for three years over the course of their lives compared to the five year total in Lee's legislation. Parents also qualify if they have worked for the past year or five of the past six quarters under Rubio's plan or Lee's, respectively; neither plan requires full-time work. Both bills allow workers to collect the benefit in addition to any employer-provided benefits, while Democrats reduce the benefit if a recipient receives employer coverage. Holler said the New Parents Act delivers "tax and spend benefits without taxing and spending."
"We do not want Washington to get in the way of what families are deciding," Holler said. "There's a lot of momentum, a lot of interest."
Rachel Wagley, Rep. Wagner's legislative director, began working on the bill while she was on maternity leave in 2018. She said it was designed to "fill in the gaps" of private sector benefits. Higher educated high income women typically benefit from the most generous leave policies. She said it is "unconscionable" that lower income women are denied such opportunities. Giving parents, particularly mothers, the ability to stay home without financial pressure will only help individual freedom.
"We are enabling mothers to spend time with their children," Wagley said. "We are empowering women to make those choices themselves."
Kristin Shapiro of the Independent Women's Forum said that the erosion of family life amid increased prices is one of the largest crises of the 21st century and that Republicans should answer the call.
"Most people that return to work so early do not want to. They just can't miss that paycheck," she said. "These proposals are available to people who don't have other options."