Today’s White House budget proposal includes something unprecedented in a Republican president’s budget—a proposal for paid parental leave. It is a testament to the Trump administration understanding the intense public demand for paid leave. But the proposal is as out of touch as the rest of the budget. The paid leave proposal provides inadequate time to care, excludes people caring for a sick relative or their own serious illness, fails to create a national baseline, and is paid for on the backs of those who have lost their jobs.
Clearly confused about what parents actually experience, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Mick Mulvaney described it this way: “We need men and women who aren’t sitting at home thinking, ‘you know what, I don’t know if I can go back to work. We’re getting ready to have a kid—what happens if I have to stay home?'”
It’s not surprising that the man who failed to pay taxes for his nanny—because he thought she was just a “babysitter” helping his wife with his triplets—is this out of touch. Moms recovering from c-sections are not thinking “what happens if I have to stay home?” Dads who have just adopted a new child aren’t wondering “what happens if I have to stay home?” And parents worrying about the high cost of having a child and paying the rest of their bills aren’t thinking “I don’t know if I can go back to work.” They are stressed because they have no choice.
Think of these stories from activist Jessica Shortall’s 2015 Ted Talk, included in my Century Foundation report, “Tech Companies Are Leading the Way on Paid Family Leave”:
“I gave birth to twins and went back to work after 7 unpaid weeks. Emotionally, I was a wreck. Physically, I had a severe hemorrhage during labor, and major tearing . . . so I could barely get up, sit, or walk. My employer told me I wasn’t allowed to use my available vacation days because it was budget season.”
“We adopted our son. When I got the call, the day he was born, I had to take off work. I had not been there long enough to qualify for FMLA [unpaid job protected leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act] so I wasn’t eligible for unpaid leave. When I took time off to meet my newborn son, I lost my job.”
The Trump budget proposal for paid leave is just as out of touch as Mulvaney’s comments. The reality is that today only 14 percent of people have paid time to care for their family members and fewer than 40 percent have access to personal medical leave through employer-provided short-term disability insurance. Advocates have been pushing for decades for paid time to care. California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have shown how successful paid family leave policies are. New York will implement its policy starting this January. Trump is right in his understanding of just how popular these issues are. But unlike his proposed budget, these state policies are based on social insurance and guarantee families paid to time to care for their relatives when they need it.
The states with paid family leave have not attempted to pay for it on the backs of people who are out of work and looking for jobs, as the Trump budget does.
The states with paid family leave have not attempted to pay for it on the backs of people who are out of work and looking for jobs, as the Trump budget does. Trump’s budget takes money away from the already strained unemployment safety net, which needs more resources—not fewer—to guarantee that support is available for the people who have paid into the system when they need it because of job loss. Only twenty-one states have been able to save up adequate reserves for the next recession, which means the majority of states do not have the resources to pay for unemployment benefits if there is another recession.
The Trump budget proposal relies on an already strained safety net and leaves the details of paid leave up to the states. But you shouldn’t have to be lucky enough to live in the right state or work for the right employer to guarantee you can be there for your newborn or your spouse with cancer. Everyone means everyone, no exceptions. The Trump budget doesn’t offer a cent for those who need to care for aging parents, a sick partner, or your own serious medical needs. The time is way too short, the amount of income way too little, and it is left to the states to decide how to make it work.
you shouldn’t have to be lucky enough to live in the right state or work for the right employer to guarantee you can be there for your newborn or your spouse with cancer. Everyone means everyone, no exceptions.
The paid leave plan ignores the fact that more than 75 percent of people who take family or medical leave in this country do so for family caregiving and medical reasons—not for parental leave. It neglects people who are addressing their own serious health issues, including people facing long and arduous courses of chemotherapy, recovering from life-saving surgeries and more.
Furthermore, the proposal excludes people who care for seriously ill or injured family members, including parents who need to be by the bedsides of children as they battle life-threatening conditions, and adult sons and daughters caring for parents as they battle Alzheimer’s and other diseases. It disregards the needs military families face when a service member is called to duty and a spouse must manage new care responsibilities with jobs. And it provides a completely inadequate six weeks of leave, when doctors and other experts have made clear that twelve weeks should be the minimum national standard.
To put this in context, the overall impact of Trump’s budget proposal—massive tax cuts for the wealthy while taking away food assistance, student aid, health care, and other assistance that provide families with a basic standard of living—is a disaster for women and families.
Too many of us are forced to make impossible decisions on a regular basis. People get sick. Babies are born or adopted. A parent has surgery. Life happens, and our workplace and public policies need to catch up. Care work is some of the most important work done, yet because it historically has been done by women, and very often for no pay, it is some of the most undervalued work in the United States. Whether it’s caring for children, ourselves, or aging parents, everyone deserves the right to care for loved ones while still making ends meet. That’s why we need real solutions that guarantee people across the United States. The Trump policy is the wrong approach.