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Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduces measure to break what she calls ‘bipartisan consensus that breaks our economy’ by not guaranteeing new parents the time off they need
US Senate Democrats block move to include guaranteed paid parental leave in federal spending bill
US Senate Democrats blocked on Wednesday a measure that would have included a guarantee of new parents paid family and medical leave in a federal spending bill that could be required by Republicans, a move that could hamper efforts to pass a sweeping tax cut package in December.
Quick guide Why paid family leave is an important issue Show Hide Who needs it? Around 70% of employers provide some form of paid parental leave. Although a standard allotment of six weeks at 66% of average weekly earnings for a stay-at-home mother is regarded as generous, it leaves many parents financially vulnerable when children are sick or grow up. In some countries, such as Sweden, mandatory coverage is universal, but even there new parents typically receive 60% of their salaries for the first year of the child’s life. In the US, one in three mothers and one in six fathers return to work after having a child, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but that doesn’t fully cover the costs of childcare, which are typically greater in the US than in many other countries. What are the downsides? Critics argue that the policy increases a business’s administrative costs, encourages employee absences and encourages some parents to stop caring for their children rather than stay at home. What are its supporters saying? Supporters say the absence of paid leave leaves millions of workers – disproportionately women – unprepared for new parenthood and forces some parents to work when they are ill or should be taking time off. They argue that guaranteeing paid leave will stimulate the economy as new parents spend their time away from work on other projects. Who funds it? In the US, funding for such leave is currently provided by an obscure payroll tax on employees that is scheduled to expire at the end of 2018. Most economists say the tax, paid by employers and employees each week, should be raised or extended to ensure there is adequate funding for leave. What do the experts say? The World Economic Forum ranked the US last in its 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, which assesses the degree to which countries have equal opportunities for men and women. US lawmakers have introduced legislation to guarantee six weeks of paid parental leave, but the measure has stalled.
“This is a partisan fight we can’t win,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a co-sponsor of the bill, told reporters on Wednesday. “We can’t get the Republicans to step up and do something we know is good for America.”
The Democratic effort to introduce paid leave legislation came as both houses of Congress push for at least a temporary reprieve from government funding that has lapsed a dozen times in the past two years.
Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed a bill to extend the federal workforce’s six weeks of mandatory paid leave at 65% of wages. The measure will go to the Senate for consideration as part of the spending bill to avoid a shutdown at the end of the month.
However, Republicans do not plan to extend the current law’s automatic pension-funding guarantee to cover federally employed employees or cover the cost for them of paid leave benefits.
“Senators like Kirsten Gillibrand are holding a pay raise hostage in order to force policy her constituents oppose and that Republicans oppose,” said an aide to a Republican senator who did not want to be named.
Several other groups were also expected to push the GOP to offer support for the bill, including the American Civil Liberties Union, AARP and the Center for American Progress, a liberal thinktank.
Gillibrand said that Congress had to avoid a shutdown and planned to introduce legislation in the fall to extend guaranteed paid leave.
With Congress poised to push off funding decisions for at least another month, President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that the House of Representatives is “making a very big push” to pass legislation to renew federal programs at current funding levels.
However, Republicans have yet to propose a way to pay for the reprieve from Washington, saying instead that lawmakers should find the money elsewhere, which would include debt refinancing, tax credits for working families and less federal spending in some areas, including the military.