President Clinton proposed yesterday that parents receive state subsidies while taking time away from work to care for a new baby. "We have no higher value than family," he said.
Clinton announced a proposed new rule that would allow parental leave payments from the same system that now pays temporary benefits to the unemployed. Parents then could draw at least a portion of their regular salaries during leaves timed to the birth or adoption of a child.
"I believe it will strengthen parents' bonds with both their children and their jobs," Clinton said. "On the eve of this new century, we ought to set a goal that all parents can take the time they need for their families without losing the income they need to support them."
The president announced his proposal with three families in the Oval Office before he left for a three-day trip to the West Coast and Pennsylvania. Democratic fund-raising events in California and Philadelphia will bracket Clinton's address to the World Trade Organization in Seattle today.
The proposed parental leave rule would allow states to experiment with their differing unemployment insurance systems under a voluntary pilot program. Advocates say the program would be inexpensive for states, which already collect payroll taxes and distribute unemployment benefits.
A White House official said states may decide for themselves whether they have enough money in the unemployment pot to begin administering parental leave payments, and may also decide the terms and duration of those payments.
At least four states--Massachusetts, Vermont, Maryland and Washington--already are considering extending unemployment benefits to new parents. At the urging of these states, Clinton in May directed the Labor Department to formulate regulations that would allow states to legislate changes under which surplus unemployment funds could be used for parental leave payments.
The unemployment insurance system, set up in the 1930s, allows states considerable flexibility in determining eligibility for unemployment benefits. But federal rules bar states from using unemployment insurance funds for other purposes.
The proposed new rule, which would take effect early next year, does not require congressional action.
Parents are now entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave with the guarantee of job protection. Since the Family and Medical Leave Act was passed in 1993, about 24 million people have used some or all of their entitled 12 weeks to care for a new baby or other family member.
A federally commissioned 1996 study found parents citing the loss of income as the main reason for forgoing the unpaid leave. The same study found that nearly one in 10 people who took unpaid leave ended up on welfare during their time away from work.