Family Leave Bill Empowers Parents -- With Their Own Money

Family Leave Bill Empowers Parents -- With Their Own Money
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Family Leave Bill Empowers Parents -- With Their Own Money
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
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As new paid-family-leave proposals circulate on Capitol Hill, Congress is being asked the radical question: Should citizens be able to use their own retirement money to raise their children? Considering that Social Security does not currently save for future retirement but rather pays, in real time, retirees today, it’s disingenuous to tell struggling families that they can’t have their money now when they truly need it.

The reality is that the current system in place (or lack thereof) is not supportive enough of young families. Paid paternal leave is practically nonexistent, though research shows that the father’s presence during his child’s first few weeks (or months) at home is largely beneficial to all involved. Men who serve as the breadwinners for their families are sacrificing this crucial, irreplaceable time with their new children due to the pressure of providing for the family. It’s a tough position to be in, to say the least.

Maternity leave is certainly more common than paternity leave, but that doesn’t mean every institution offers it. It is a jarring prospect to birth or adopt a child and have to return to work after a few “sick days.” Mothers who had biological children need time to physically heal, especially C-section mothers, who need the entire standard six-week maternity leave to recover.

The average annual cost of day care in the U.S. is a whopping $11,666 ($972 a month). The average total cost (as of 2010) of raising a baby for the first year is $12,000. The extra time spent with children is the biggest win, but American parents could really use all the financial help they can get as they work to make ends meet. Especially when it’s actually their money.

This month, Students for Life of America will meet with key legislators in Washington, D.C., to support  Sens. Joni Ernst (pictured) and Mike Lee’s CRADLE Act – in other words, paid family leave. The legislation, designed to give parents extra paid time with their new child after birth or adoption, is voluntary for employees and dovetails with research about positive outcomes regarding time spent as a family during those precious first few weeks.

According to the bill’s summary document, “The Child Rearing and Development Leave Empowerment (CRADLE) Act would allow both natural and adoptive parents to receive one, two, or three months of paid leave benefits in exchange for postponing the activation of their retirement benefits for two, four, or six months. The benefit would be calculated using the existing Social Security disability formula.”

So how would this actually work? At some point between six months and one month before the expected birth or adoption, the (qualifying) expecting parents would fill out an initial application to notify the SSA of their intention to draw on their Paid Parental Leave benefit. Then, as part of the new child’s application for a Social Security number, parents would inform SSA that they wish to begin receiving that benefit. As long as applications are submitted on time, SSA would direct-deposit the first month’s benefit within two weeks of receiving the second half of the application. The benefit amount would be determined by Social Security’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) based on their qualifying wages. They would repay Social Security by postponing the activation of their retirement benefits by two months for every one-month of parental leave taken.

This legislation would be universal, which is a far leap from other policies that get mixed up and confused in a web of technicalities. It would benefit all working parents just trying to do the best they can for their families. After all, by the end of their childbearing years, 86 percent of women will have had a baby. For these mothers and their children, Students for Life supports the paid family leave program to empower families with their own resources.

Critics and supporters of the CRADLE Act come from both sides of the political aisle. Conservatives like that it’s voluntary, potentially budget-neutral, and family positive. Progressives and liberals like that the program has some guaranteed benefits for families. As expected, some have qualms about anything touching on Social Security. 

But a supportive family program such as this is a great addition to a post-Roe society. The more safety nets and resources available for families, the more unthinkable abortion becomes. A family-focused, budget-neutral proposal like this is a monumental step in the right direction for helping families choose life, especially as money and career concerns tend to be some of the top factors for choosing abortion.

At a political moment in which bipartisan efforts are rare, there are high hopes that the CRADLE Act can soar through with bipartisan support. After all, giving parents the option to spend more stress-free time with their new babies by spending their own money should be an initiative all can support.

Kristan Hawkins is president of Students for Life of America, which has more than 1,200 chapters on college and high school campuses across the country. Follow her @KristanHawkins. 

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