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Dip into Social Security savings to pay for parental leave? That’s Marco Rubio’s plan.

Is it still paid family leave if you pay for it?
Published Mar. 27, 2019
Updated Mar. 27, 2019

Most of the industrialized world offers new parents paid time off to care for a newborn or recently adopted child — except the United States.

Sen. Marco Rubio says he has an idea to change that.

The Florida Republican introduced a bill on Wednesday that would allow new parents up to three months of paid parental leave. But unlike other proposals that would pay for this through taxes or by requiring businesses to offer it as a benefit, Rubio wants people to pay for their time off through their Social Security savings.

To offset the cost, parents could either take less money in retirement, or work for three to six months longer before retiring.

Existing law mandates companies allow up to three months of time off to care for a new child. Some employers might pay people during that time off, but most don’t.

“Right now they have no options," Rubio said. "Most Americans can’t go two weeks without a paycheck. The only option is to to go on public assistance or run up huge amounts of debt.”

Under Rubio’s bill, someone making less than $65,000 would be able to pull from Social Security an amount equal to about 50 to 70 percent of their wages.

Rubio introduced a similar bill last summer, and Republicans have lately taken up paid family leave as an issue. President Donald Trump backed the idea in his recent State of the Union and his daughter, Ivanka Trump, has frequently weighed in on the debate. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst recently filed a bill similar to Rubio’s, and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Reps. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., and Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, joined Rubio in announcing the updated legislation on Wednesday.

However, Democrats have balked at these proposals so far. To them, it’s not paid leave if people have to dip into their own earned benefit to pay for it, and, they say, the proposal falls far short of providing the financial security and time off that families need to care for a newborn.

Many Western countries allow new parents to take up to a year off, citing research that shows children have improved long-term outcomes when they spend their early development stages with their parents. It also guarantees time for breastfeeding and for new mothers to recover.

If this paid time off yields children that are better adjusted, healthier and more prepared for early learning, the government saves money in the long-run on other services, like health care, education and even prisons.

For Democrats, taking from Social Security is much less desirable than paying for the benefit through payroll taxes.

But Rubio said Republicans won’t support any proposal that raises taxes or one that puts new mandates on businesses.

“Those approaches don’t work for us so we hope that at some point there will be a meeting of the minds,” Rubio said.

The idea for years has been criticized by the right, too. Some conservatives argue it will put a strain on businesses and they are skeptical of the government subsidizing any paid time off.

To that, Rubio pointed out that many Republicans once backed President George W. Bush when he wanted to allow people to invest their Social Security like a 401k.

“I find it sort of ironic that someone would support taking it and investing it in the stock market,” Rubio said, “but not being able to invest it in children, which is the most meaningful thing you can do for our country and its future.”

“This isn’t designed to make the world perfect,” he added. “It’s designed to make the world better.”

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