The United States is one of only three countries on earth that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave. Papua New Guinea and Lesotho share our unique distinction, but in every other place on this planet, new mothers are guaranteed at least some time off with pay.
It’s easier to point out a problem, though, than it is to fix it. Paying employees to not go to work is expensive. The costs of guaranteeing paid family leave under one previously proposed program, according to the American Action Forum, would have totaled $12.7 billion nationwide in 2017 alone.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, however, believe that they have the solution. They call it the Cradle Act, and it would let new parents pay for their own family leave by pulling it out of their Social Security.
The Cradle Act
Lee and Ernst outlined their plan in a Washington Post article yesterday.
Under their plan, any new parent – whether they give birth to their own biological child or adopt – would be allowed two or three months of paid leave.
Instead of paying for those benefits by raising taxes or increasing the U.S. debt, the parents would pay for the leave themselves by pushing back their Social Security benefits by two, four, or six months.
New parents would have to notify the Social Security Administration that they plan to take leave before the baby’s birth or adoption and would start getting payments within two weeks of applying for their baby’s Social Security number.
Their benefits would be based on their primary insurance amount (PIA), essentially making the paid family leave a sort of temporary early retirement. Using the PIA formula, Lee and Ernst say, would help ensure that lower-income families still have enough to live on.
The cost, in short, wouldn’t fall on the government; in fact, Lee and Ernst believe that these types of maternity leaves would actually strengthen the Social Security system.
The other side
On the surface, it seems like a perfect, bipartisan plan to a major problem. The Cradle Act balances the budget, strengthens the economy, and ensures a social welfare program to new parents all at the same time.
But KSL Newsradio’s Ethan Millard isn’t convinced that this is the great idea Lee and Ernst say it is. He called into the Dave & Dujanovic show to voice his frustration and explain what he believes most people are missing.
“This is not a good deal,” Millard says. “They say this is a pro-family thing, but I think this is an anti-family thing.”
His complaint, in part, is that he doesn’t accept that America can’t afford maternity leave.
“This is the richest economy we’ve ever had,” Millard says. “Why can’t we afford anything?”
The mere act of having children, he argues, makes up for the cost of paid family leave on its own just through their participation as consumers in our economy.
“Why do have to get lectures from Sen. Lee that: ‘Oh, if you want children, you’re going to have to pay for it?'” Milarr says. “Oh, really, we’re not paying for it already? Of course we are. Having children is continuing to pay for it.”
The Cradle Act, Millard believes, takes the economic benefit of having children away from the parents and redistributes it, all while chipping away at the Social Security benefits.
“[Social Security] is the most important anti-poverty program we have,” he says. “To raid it so we can do something so fundamental as having children… That’s crazy to me.”
Lee, Millard says, is “leading [us] down the primrose path” by using complicated equations to disguise his plan as a social service that actually steals from American’s retirements.
Instead, Millard says that America just needs to provide parents with paid leave as a new benefit.
“New child, new benefit,” he says. “That’s how it’s gotta be.”
More to the story
You can hear Ethan Millard’s whole take on the Cradle Act and how Utah responded on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast.
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