Rubio Paid Leave Plan is ‘Wrong for America.’ It Excludes Most Workers, Jeopardizes Essential Social Security Benefits

Statement of Debra L. Ness, President, National Partnership for Women & Families

“The national paid family leave program Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) plan to unveil tomorrow would exacerbate rather than help solve the enormous challenges families face. We appreciate that Sen. Rubio and Rep. Wagner are looking for a way to provide the paid leave America’s families urgently need, but a program that only covers parents caring for new children, provides no leave for family care and personal medical needs, and forces parents to choose between paid leave and retirement security is absolutely the wrong way to go. In fact, it is reckless, irresponsible and ill-conceived. This is a Social Security benefit cut for the working people who need Social Security the most.

First, imposing a Social Security penalty for taking paid leave is punitive and unnecessary. According to an Urban Institute analysis, it would result in huge losses — a 6 percent benefit cut, equal to more than $11,000, for a typical parent of two. And women, people of color and lower-wage workers will be harmed most because Social Security is more often their main source of income in retirement.

Second, the Rubio plan covers only leave for parents to care for new children, excluding 75 percent of leaves taken for reasons covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act — people who need leave to care for a seriously ill loved one, to recover from illness or injury, or for military care. These are new or expecting working mothers-with life-threatening complications; working people with serious injuries; and older people forced to remain in the workforce to pay the rent and put food on the table. Excluding them from a paid leave plan is unacceptable and would create cruel ironies for people who use paid parental leave to care for children now and face serious family or personal medical needs later.

Third, the Rubio plan’s wage replacement rate and maximum benefit amount are too low to help most working and middle-class people, and it fails to provide vitally important protections against retaliation.

There’s a better, tested way to craft a national paid leave plan that works for all families. The Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), is a modest and reasonable approach that builds on successful state paid family and medical leave programs. It is responsibly funded and self-sustaining. It reflects our shared values of work, family and care without forcing impossible new choices. It would support families, businesses and our economy.

In the United States today, more than 100 million working people do not have paid family leave through their jobs. They are at risk of missing a baby’s first smile, being unable to help a parent — or a child — get to cancer treatments or being forced to work while a spouse recovering from an injury sustained in military service needs their care.

As the organization that pioneered family and medical leave in this country, all of us at the National Partnership for Women & Families recognize the urgent imperative to put a national paid leave program in place — and we know that it must cover everyone, no matter where they live or work or the job they hold. We’re pleased to see new policy proposals that focus on social insurance as a means of providing paid leave and welcome a rigorous debate. But the details matter and the plan we adopt must be comprehensive and inclusive, well-considered and constructed, and responsive to the needs of working people. The Rubio/Wagner plan won’t meet those tests. The FAMILY Act reflects the paid leave model the country needs. It is the right way forward for our country.”

About the National Partnership

The National Partnership for Women & Families is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, reproductive health and rights, access to quality, affordable health care and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family. More information is available at NationalPartnership.org.

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