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U.S. could get first paid family leave benefit under Trump budget proposal

Ivanka Trump is helping her father push for paid family leave. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Trump’s budget proposal next week will include a new benefit for America’s working parents, one Democrats have long championed and Republicans have long opposed: paid family leave.

The president’s first detailed budget request on Tuesday will seek funds for the creation of a program to grant mothers and fathers six weeks of paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child, two senior White House budget office officials said.

The proposal for a family leave program was one of the few relatively large ticket items in a budget which is expected to contain sweeping reductions in spending on nondefense measures.

The White House officials said details of the program still had to be worked out through negotiation with Congress.

But Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who also acts as an assistant to the president and has been a chief advocate for the policy inside the White House, is expected to play a central role in discussions about how to construct it.

The First Daughter launched a working group in January to drive the paid leave initiative.

Ivanka Trump said that, "in the United States, the single largest cost in over half of American households, the single largest expense is child care." (Video: Reuters, Photo: FELIPE TRUEBA/Reuters)

The plan unveiled by the senior White House budget office officials appeared more inclusive than Trump’s first proposals on mandatory maternity leave during the election campaign.

That proposal last September — while a break from the traditional Republican position on paid leave — restricted the benefit to biological mothers, provoking a backlash from Democrats and gender equality activists.

Under the newest proposal, fathers and adoptive parents would also qualify for the financial relief, which would be paid through the country’s unemployment insurance system.

The program is expected to cost about $25 billion over 10 years, and will benefit about 1.3 million people, the White House officials said.

The program will not have an income limit, but high earners would see their benefit capped, the officials said.

They shared few details on how the program would be funded.

The United States is the only developed country that does not guarantee new mothers or fathers a single day of paid time off. Trump’s proposals would change that, but the six weeks of paid leave would still be much less than other industrialized countries.

Under the Trump administration proposals, states would be required to run their own programs, unless they already have one in place. So far, only California, Rhode Island and New Jersey offer new parents the benefit, which is financed through temporary disability insurance programs. New York and Washington, D.C., have approved measures that start taking effect next year.

“The states would have a big stake in it,” said one of the White House officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe a program that had not yet been formally proposed. “They could help design the program.”

As of today, workers in the United States can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after a birth, as long as they’ve worked at a company that employs at least 50 people for a year.

A little more than half of American companies already offer the benefit: 58 percent replace at least some wages during maternity leave, and 12 percent cover some leave for dads.

The White House budget is expected to call for a sharp increase in defense spending, money to build a wall along the Mexico border, and new immigration and border agents. But it will also call for major spending cuts in a range of other programs, including housing, education, environmental protection, foreign aid and anti-poverty initiatives.

The White House has said that the cuts are necessary to save money, and because they believe many of the programs are ineffective, but they have met resistance in Congress, where some of the targeted initiatives enjoy bipartisan support.

The family leave program could be one, though, that draws interest from Democrats, many of whom have argued for more government support for young families, particularly low-income mothers. A recent study found an estimated quarter of breadwinning moms return to work two weeks after giving birth, regardless of if they’re ready.

“It’s a major step forward, and it’s better than zero, which is what parents are guaranteed now,” said Jeffrey Hayes, program director of job quality and income security at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “Trump is the first Republican in the White House to talk about this, so he could get some bipartisan support.”

The proposal also received a cautious welcome from a conservative economist. “It’s a fair starting point to the conversation,” said Abby McCloskey, former policy adviser to Energy Secretary Rick Perry, an early supporter for paid leave on the right. “Trump has the opportunity to push the Republican Party forward and create a new line of thinking.”

However, the president could meet resistance to his proposals on Capitol Hill.

Democrats have called for a more generous paid leave plan. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), for example, has introduced a bill that would supply new parents with 12 weeks of paid time off at two-thirds of their pay. To pay for the program, workers would offer up 0.2 percent of their wages and employers would match that. Gillibrand has said she would be happy to work together with Trump on a paid leave plan.

There could also be pushback from congressional Republicans. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), for example, has voted against paid leave programs, supporting instead policies that would enable employees to build up time off in lieu of overtime pay.

Business leaders, meanwhile, have spoken out against paid leave, arguing they would rather not absorb the expense.
Some do see the value in providing the support, because of research suggesting it reduces employee turnover.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the paid family leave program would cost around $25 billion a year to implement. The White House forecasts it will cost around $25 billion over 10 years.

Maya Warren works two jobs, as a home health worker, and an Uber driver. But without any maternity leave, she had to go back to work less than a week after giving birth. (Video: Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post, Photo: Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)