By: Francesca Chambers featuring IWF President Carrie Lukas

Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy said he will repackage his paid family leave proposal as a five-year pilot program in the hopes that it will pass Congress this month as part of the coronavirus stimulus legislation.

Cassidy said parents have been strained during the pandemic and that the paid family leave proposal could help ease some of their burdens. The five-year pilot program is intended to help with the cost of daycare and other expenses and replace wages for new parents who take a leave of absence from their jobs.

The proposal would provide $5,000 in advance on new parents’ child tax credits and reduce families’ tax credits by $500 a year for 10 years, if they choose to participate in the voluntary federal program. Families are normally eligible for up to $2,000 annually in tax credits for each child, that would change to a maximum of $1,500 a child if they participated in Cassidy’s pilot program.

Business groups say it is too soon to determine whether the temporary tax credit that Democrats want to extend would help keep workers on payrolls through the pandemic.

Conservatives like Carrie Lukas, president of the Independent Women’s Forum, argue that the bill created a new mandate on employers to provide paid leave that is “incredibly disruptive” to some businesses, because they are expected to pay absent workers for up to 10 weeks total. The government reimbursement does not come until later.

Lukas supports Cassidy’s proposal to let families borrow from future tax credits, because it is voluntary and limited to parents who need additional support the year that they give birth to or adopt a baby.

“This is obviously not meant to solve all problems,” she said of the bipartisan bill. “There are some people who are never going to be satisfied.”

By turning the proposal into a five-year pilot program, Cassidy told McClatchy he hopes to demonstrate “proof of concept.”

Cassidy said he believes the program will help to elevate families out of poverty and assist women to grow their income. He said the bill is intended to give new families a running start, especially those who have birthed or adopted children during the health crisis and are currently facing job loss and financial uncertainty.

The Republican senator said the reason for focusing on a paid leave program that only applies to new parents is that they are most likely to need to stay home with their children. “So we’re not thinking of expanding it to older children, because our whole strategy, our whole rationale, is that first year is the most expensive year,” he said.

Cassidy argued that reopening schools will relieve stress on parents with older children. He said that a COVID-19 testing strategy for children should be part of school reopenings.

As for the extension that Democrats are advocating to stretch the emergency program, he said it is difficult to predict what will happen later this year with COVID-19 and whether the emergency tax credit will be needed through the end of 2021.

“A little bit of what we’re trying to anticipate is circumstance, right? And I think it’s best to see how that circumstance plays out,” Cassidy said.

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