Donald Trump’s new paid maternity leave proposal is vague about who would be eligible, labor policy experts say, and includes a provision that possibly could exclude one of the country's most economically vulnerable groups: single mothers.
A document on the Trump campaign's website states same-sex couples would receive the six weeks of paid leave under the policy only if their marriage is "recognized under state law," language that could effectively bar any unmarried parent.
Ivanka Trump, the Republican presidential nominee's elder daughter, noted the rule in an interview last week with Cosmopolitan magazine. She said fathers and parents who adopt would not be eligible for the six weeks of paid leave, and when pressed on why the plan leaves out dads, the 34-year-old mother of three replied, "It's meant to benefit, whether it's in same-sex marriages as well, to benefit the mother who has given birth to the child if they have legal married status under the tax code." (Per last year's Supreme Court ruling, all same-sex marriages are legally recognized.)
The campaign has credited Ivanka Trump with inspiring and co-designing the proposal — the first of its nature from a top Republican contender for the White House.
"The plan is discriminating against fathers, fathers and mothers who adopt, LGBT parents and apparently some set of unmarried parents," said Carmel Martin, executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.
The Trump campaign did not return numerous calls and emails. Stephen Moore, one of Trump's economic advisers, said he wasn't sure whether single mothers could harness the benefit.
It's not clear whether the policy intends to apply the marriage requirement to single mothers. The maternity leave section of the campaign’s website doesn’t mention any marital status caveats. In fact, it applauds California’s paid leave program, enacted in 2003, for benefiting "unmarried” populations and says Trump's maternity leave plan intends to "advance the interests of disadvantaged mothers."
The Trump campaign has previously addressed the plight of many single mothers. In a Wall Street Journal essay last week, Ivanka Trump acknowledged their uphill battle. “The number of households led by single mothers has doubled in the past three decades,” she wrote, “and the majority of these women work in low-paying jobs without flexibility or benefits.”
About 9.9 million single mothers with young children live in the United States, according to federal statistics. Nearly one-third of those with jobs live in poverty.
Some experts said the wording of Trump's policy was too ambiguous to determine who could participate.
Michael Tanner, a domestic policy analyst at the right-leaning Cato Institute, said he thinks the Trump campaign has stayed intentionally vague on the details to appeal to a larger voting population.
“I think this is another case where he hasn’t really thought out the language they’re using,” Tanner said. “There’s no legal way to exclude a single mother.”
Conservative economist Aparna Mathur, who studies tax policy and labor issues at the American Enterprise Institute, said Ivanka Trump's statement didn't clarify the matter.
"I don’t see details about who is left out, who is eligible,” she said, after reading the Trump campaign's public outline of the policy.
The Trump team has said singles and families — gay, straight, adoptive and foster — would qualify for the tax breaks under Trump’s broader child-care plan. The Republican candidate proposes allowing parents to deduct the average cost of their state’s care from their income taxes. He also wants to extend six weeks of paid leave to new mothers, exclusively, through the country’s unemployment insurance program, which for now supplies benefits only to people who have been laid off. The average weekly benefit, it says, would be $300. Trump says he’d pay for it by eliminating the system’s fraud.
Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers may choose to offer up to eight weeks of special leave to new mothers — but not new fathers — who require down time to heal from child birth. Moore, who applauded Trump's plan Wednesday on NPR, said men are barred because women have traditionally shouldered domestic duties, and the policy architects wanted to keep the cost down. Marriage, again, didn’t come up.
Parental leave policies, however, must appear gender-blind if bonding and child care is the focus. The law cannot define men's and women's roles. (A CNN reporter sued his employer in 2013 for offering 10 weeks of paid leave to new mothers but not fathers. In response, Time Warner, the parent company, changed its policy.)
Galen Sherwin, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, said opening paid maternity leave only for married women would probably be illegal in parts of the country.
“Policies that distinguish between individuals based on their marital status may conflict with state law,” she said. “There would be difficulty upholding that under a constitutional analysis.”
Correction: Stephen Moore is a general adviser to Trump on economic matters. A previous version of this story misidentified his involvement in the developing Trump's tax and child-care plan.