Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) recently introduced the New Parents Act. This forward-thinking legislation would offer new parents the option of claiming a paid leave benefit as they welcome their newest family member. Rep. Wagner just took a step to making life easier for the millions of new parents out there.
Some are surprised to have a Republican member leading on this important issue; I'm not.
Back in 2003, I was pregnant with my first child and working for Ann Wagner at the Republican National Committee. At the time, I was one of several pregnant women within the organization, not great timing given that we were all gearing up for a busy election year.
There was not a maternity leave policy in place at the time. I was starting to panic, as I didn’t know what to expect with the impending birth, yet I knew I wanted to return to a job I loved. Ann Wagner, one of the few women in leadership, made it her mission to represent us soon-to-be moms. Ann got a maternity policy for us. We had several weeks of paid leave and the option to take additional unpaid time away from work. We had our babies and came back to our jobs. We went on with our lives, both our working careers and raising children. What Ann really gave me was peace of mind and some space to adjust.
It is no surprise that 16 years later, Ann is at the forefront of fighting for a parental leave bill to help more soon-to-be moms and dads. As a mother and a grandmother, Ann knows how it feels to await the arrival of a baby and worry about how much life is going to change, but she also knows as a businesswoman the challenges that employers face in wanting to help workers, but still needing to make ends meet.
Wagner’s New Parent Act balances these needs. It would allow new parents to claim an earned leave benefit for 1, 2 or 3 months, in return for a reduction in Social Security benefits for up to five years upon retirement. This is essentially a loan that workers will pay back. Workers earn parental leave benefits by paying Social Security payroll taxes and then repay those parental benefits through reduced retirement benefits from Social Security for up to five years. The long-term cost of the bill is zero.
What’s more, the bill would allow the most flexibility to workers and is entirely optional. One woman may choose to have children and take advantage of this program. Another woman may not. A father might choose to access these benefits and another father might not. It is a decision to be made by the new parent and impacts no one, but that new parent.
Businesses that currently offer paid leave benefits on their own would have every reason to continue doing so. But now employees for businesses that aren't able to provide paid leave time will have new and better options, but without a costly new burden on their employer which could discourage job creation.
We hear so much about the need for choice from our feminist friends when it comes to issues pertaining to women’s reproductive health. However, in the current paid leave debate, those voices tend to oppose choice and support one-size-fits all approaches to the paid leave issue, exemplified by the FAMILY Act, which makes everybody pay for paid leave for new parents and would encourage businesses to eliminate their own benefit packages and reduce flexibility.
Fairness, compassion and commonsense: These have been concepts at the core of Rep. Wagner's work for decades. It made a big impact on my family and me and has the potential to impact millions of other American families.