New parents would have the option to use their Social Security benefits early in exchange for delaying retirement under a bill introduced Tuesday by Republican Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Mike Lee of Utah.
Their bill, the Child Rearing and Development Leave Empowerment, or CRADLE, Act has emerged as one of several conservative options on paid parental leave as President Trump has given the issue his blessing and as GOP senators have been encouraged by first daughter and senior White House adviser Ivanka Trump.
The CRADLE Act would let parents take one, two, or three months off from work to care for a newborn or adoptive child. In exchange, people could delay retirement benefits for two, four, or six months, respectively. Parents would fill out a form anywhere between six and one months before a birth or adoption to notify the Social Security Administration, and then the government's first month of payments to parents would start two weeks after they applied for their child's social security number.
To qualify, parents must have worked four out of the previous four quarters, five out of the previous six quarters, or at least 20 total quarters before filing the application. People who are less likely to get employer-sponsored family leave would receive more generous benefits, and parents would need to live in the same house as the child for at least half of the year following the birth or adoption.
Benefit levels would be determined using the same formula used to determine Social Security Disability benefits. For instance, someone making $50,730 a year would get roughly $1,861 a month. Someone making the poverty level of $16,910 would get $960 a month. If parents file too late, then the payments they get from Social Security would also be delayed.
At a press conference Tuesday, the senators, flanked by children and moms in Lee's office, presented their policy as the start of a discussion rather than a finished product. Ernst said she welcomed ideas from Senate colleagues and from the White House.
"We think this is the right way to move forward, but it’s a discussion draft," she said.
One area they hope their colleagues can weigh in on is cost, Lee said. The proposal is expected to cost between $8 billion and $9 billion a year, and the senators want to find a way to offset the amount.
More Republicans have come on board with the idea of using Social Security because it fulfills conservative ideals of being a voluntary program that doesn't create a new government program or tax. The genesis of the idea came from a white paper by the conservative Independent Women’s Forum. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced his bill last year, and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., is introducing his version soon.
The senators said they opposed the way Rubio's bill would let parents take the leave funds but return to work, saying the important piece to them was that parents could spend time with their children.
"The benefits of this extend far beyond an economic benefit," Lee said. "We don't want this to become synonymous with an economic benefit."
Democrats have dismissed the idea of using Social Security to fund paid family leave. They contend families should not have to choose between their retirement and paid family leave, saying the benefit should apply not only to people who have children but to families who have sick relatives or become sick themselves.
They have instead rallied around the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who is running for the Democratic nomination for president. The legislation funds up to 12 weeks of paid family leave through a payroll tax.
Ernst pushed back against the way Democrats have characterized her parental leave plan.
"I wouldn't describe it as any sort of loss … You are spending that precious time with your newborn child, and that is time you can never get back," Ernst said. "The benefits to that child will be just infinite."