One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Marco Rubio's paid family leave proposal doesn't do enough for working families.

Marco Rubio’s Paid Family Leave Proposal Doesn’t Do Enough For Working Families

This morning, Senator and Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio offered a paid family leave proposal that would provide businesses that volunteer to provide paid family leave with a tax credit. His proposal acknowledges the growing power and emphasis of a women’s and family economic agenda in the broader national political debate.

But in order to effectively meet the needs of today’s families and to bring us in line with virtually every other nation in the world, the United States should adopt a paid family and medical leave policy that covers all workers and meets five principles that are critical to the economic stability of working families: being accessible, comprehensive, affordable, inclusive, and available to employees without repercussion. While Rubio’s plan represents a step forward for the issue, it fails to meet four of the key criteria. Moreover, Rubio’s paid leave tax incentive is swamped by other Rubio tax proposals that favor the wealthy few instead of working families.

Rubio’s Plan Falls Short of Core Principles of an Effective Paid Family and Medical Leave Plan

Of the five principles laid out by the Center for American Progress and the National Partnership for Women and Families for an effective paid family and medical leave plan, Rubio’s plan addresses only one: inclusivity. Although Rubio’s plan does not provide much detail, it does cover caregiving for same-sex spouses and this is a significant positive step. However, his plan fails on four other factors of being accessible, comprehensive, affordable, or available to employees without repercussion. Instead, his plan would likely continue or exacerbate the inequality between who has access to paid family and medical leave. Further, it is unclear whether it covers a worker’s own serious health conditions, is not affordable, and does not explicitly address the potential for retaliation by employers.

Moreover, Rubio indicates his support for comp time, which typically requires workers to forfeit their legal right to overtime pay in order to potentially access paid time off. This essentially asks individuals to work for free in the hopes of being able to take paid time off at some point in the future.

Here’s a closer look at Rubio’s plan.

1. Continues or exacerbates the inequality between who has access to paid family and medical leave. Instead of proposing a program that is accessible for all workers, Rubio’s plan would likely continue or exacerbate the inequality between higher paid workers, most of whom have access to paid leave, and low wage workers, most of whom do not. Right now only 12 percent of the private sector workforce has access to paid family leave, and highly paid workers are more than 5 times as likely to be offered paid family leave by their employers compared to low-wage workers. Unfortunately, Rubio’s plan fails to address this problem. Creating a tax credit for businesses that choose to provide leave to their workers, standing alone, would likely do little to change employer behavior. Instead, it would provide a cost saving for the small number businesses that already provide their workers with paid leave.

2. Fails to cover serious health conditions. Rubio’s plan is a step forward in addressing parental leave, family caregiving, and military needs. However, it falls short of the time-tested, bipartisan consensus established by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which provides unpaid protected leave for family or medical reasons. Rubio’s plan fails to provide leave for workers to tend to their own serious health needs. All families are different, and a paid leave proposal should ensure that it is comprehensive enough to cover the key reasons that workers need time away from their jobs. And because medical emergencies are one of the leading causes of bankruptcy in America, ensuring that workers have access to paid medical leave is just as important as paid family leave.

3. Is not affordable. Because Rubio’s plan is voluntary and likely to be used primarily by employers that already offer paid leave, it will add costs to the federal government without adding significant additional paid leave coverage for American workers. To be effective, a paid family and medical leave must be both affordable and cost-effective for businesses, the government, and leave-takers. It must find a balance between offering sufficient wage replacement to workers while also ensuring that the costs are not overly burdensome to employers or the government.

4. Does not address retaliation by employers. Rubio’s plan does not include any language that would address retaliation against employees who need and request leave, although the Fischer-King bill his plan is based upon does have language to prevent discrimination. This is a serious gap as any paid family and medical leave proposal should also include provisions that protect workers against discrimination or retaliation when they need to take leave. Workers should not be forced to give up their workplace rights or labor protections in order to be able to have access to paid leave.

Rubio’s Plan Continues to Favor the Wealthy While Doing Little for Ordinary Families

Although Rubio’s introduction of a paid family leave proposal is a small step forward, a closer examination of his plan reveals that it continues his trend of proposing ideas that are skewed toward the wealthy while doing little for ordinary middle and working class families. For instance, Rubio’s tax plan would redistribute income from working-and middle class families to the very rich, while blowing up the federal budget.

1. Sen. Rubio’s tax plan would redistribute income from working- and middle-class families to the very rich. Rubio’s tax plan eliminates all taxes on capital gains and dividends, which disproportionately benefits the wealthy. Only 6 percent of the incomes from middle class households come from business income, capital income, and realized capital gains, while the richest 400 tax filers alone receive 12 percent of all capital gains income and 8 percent of all dividend income.

2. Rubio’s tax plan would blow up the federal budget while requiring cuts to programs that benefit the middle class. Even conservative columnist Ramesh Ponnuru has acknowledged that the plan “swells the deficit,” and a similar plan introduced by Sen. Lee would reduce tax revenues by $2.4 trillion, which could result in cuts to middle-class programs.

BOTTOM LINE: Rubio’s acknowledgement that today’s working families need effective paid family and medical leave is a small step in the right direction and highlights the growing influence and power of a women’s and family economic agenda in the broader national political debate. However, a closer examination of his plan shows that it would fail to deliver real benefits to today’s working families. Instead, it continues his trend of favoring the wealthy few while doing little for ordinary Americans.

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