Republicans in Congress are on a roll with ideas to help working women and families by introducing common-sense and fiscally responsible paid parental leave plans.
The latest plan is the Freedom for Families Act and it allows workers to use funds in health savings accounts to fund time off to welcome a new baby (birth or adoption) as well as care for a serious family illness.
Introduced by Congressman Andy Biggs, this bill is touted as a “free market alternative to federally-mandated paid family leave.”
It could be used by workers who qualify for federally-mandated leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) as well as those who have other unpaid leave, or are not currently employed.
In addition, this effort would increase the annual contribution limits to allow individuals, families, and employers to tuck more money away each year for the future.
This bill joins two other bills introduced recently by conservatives: the New Parents Act and the CRADLE Act. Senators Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney along with Representatives Ann Wagner and Dan Crenshaw, introduced the New Parents Act while Senators Mike Lee and Joni Ernst introduced the CRADLE Act.
These two bills are similar in that they both allow new moms and dads to access their Social Security benefits to fund time off for a new baby and then delay when they receive retirement benefits in the future. They are modeled after the innovative idea of Social Security Earned Leave (SSEL) designed by our sister organization, the Independent Women’s Forum.
There are differences between the New Parents Act and the CRADLE Act, but both share some important common goals:
no new taxes
no new mandates
no new entitlements
Some of those goals are also benefits of the Freedom for Families Act, but this act doesn’t require paying back funds while it is customizable to the needs of families and employers. In addition, family members or employers may make contributions to the HSAs of workers.
We have long supported tax-free savings accounts as tools for families to save for their needs – whether that’s time off or expenses. We advocated for personal care accounts in the Working for Women report by IWF.
What we’re seeing is a wave of conservative ideas for paid leave that will provide working parents the tools to fund their parental leave. These plans can be complimentary to each other to meet the unique situations and needs of workers.
These bills are all positive steps forward that we welcome and support.
Unlike the Democratic FAMILY Act, which is just a new tax on all workers, these solutions don’t place new burdens or mandates on taxpayers, workers or employers.
Social Security Earned Leave also has the added benefit of aiming to reform a facet of our social safety net to help people when they need it and to discourage dependency in the long-term.
Some 17 percent of workers without paid parental leave go on public assistance and that population jumps to almost half of all workers earning less than $50,000. That is a burden taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay.
This is an exciting time for working moms and dads who are seeing new paid leave benefits from their employers as companies are increasingly expanding them to attract and retain workers.
However, for those whose employers cannot afford to offer paid parental leave, now is the time for common-sense solutions that aren’t just one-size-fits-all taxpayer burdens, but flexible tools for parents.