The Trump administration recently released a paid parental leave plan in its fiscal year 2018 budget proposal. The plan has the stated goal of offering eligible workers six weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a new child. The Trump proposal relies on the existing federal-state unemployment insurance (UI) system to provide the parental leave benefit. However, there are many outstanding questions and details about how this program would work and who would benefit from it.
Earlier this week, Ivanka Trump indicated that the plan is merely a jumping-off point and that she is soliciting feedback. With this in mind, here are five questions that the Trump administration needs to answer on its proposed parental leave plan.
1. Which workers will be eligible to take leave?
The proposal suggests that new mothers and fathers are covered, as well as new adoptive parents. However, the proposal does not mention any anti-discrimination protections to ensure that all types of families can access the proposed parental leave policy. Will LGBT parents, stepparents, and nonparental caregivers be covered?
In addition, many questions remain about what other types of requirements parents will need to meet to receive the benefit. UI eligibility around earnings and employment requirements vary from state to state, so many workers could be screened out before accessing the benefit at all. For example, in some states, workers who have fluctuating incomes—such as those who work part time or have low weekly wages—would not qualify for UI. Many workers, such as low-wage workers, part-time workers, younger workers, and workers of color—are disproportionally excluded from the UI system for similar reasons. Will they be able to benefit from this plan? The Trump proposal includes no details that would ensure that the families who need leave the most have equitable access to the benefit.
2. Will other family caregivers and workers who need medical leave be covered?
By only offering paid leave to new parents, President Donald Trump’s plan ignores the fact that more than 75 percent of the people who take family or medical leave in this country do so for family caregiving and their own medical reasons, not for parental leave. Trump’s plan excludes workers who care for seriously ill or injured family members, including parents who need to be by the bedsides of children as they battle life-threatening conditions and adult sons and daughters caring for aging parents. The plan also neglects people who are addressing their own serious health issues, including people facing long and arduous courses of chemotherapy, people recovering from lifesaving surgeries, and more.
Finally, the plan disregards the realities that military families face when service members are called to duty and spouses must manage new care responsibilities with jobs. Paid family and medical leave laws have passed in five states—California, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, and Washington—as well as the District of Columbia, and those policies are all broader than just parental leave. The narrowness of Trump’s parental leave proposal further demonstrates how the administration is out of touch with the needs of today’s working families.
3. What share of workers’ wages will be replaced?
A parental leave plan is meaningless if workers cannot afford to use it. President Trump’s budget does not disclose what wage replacement rates workers should expect under his proposal, but the cost estimate—$18.5 billion over 10 years—suggests that the average weekly benefit would be less than $240, far too little to be sufficient for families. Since many state UI programs are currently underfunded, it is hard to imagine that the wage replacement rates would be sufficient for many families to afford to take leave.
4. Will this program affect workers’ ability to draw on UI benefits?
President Trump’s proposal is largely an unfunded mandate and pushes most of the cost for the parental leave benefit onto states. Since most states operate UI programs that are underfunded and under water, it is hard to imagine that states would have enough of a funding stream to support continuing benefits such as paid parental leave and state UI benefits. This means that states will need to find their own funding sources—raising taxes on employers or cutting existing UI benefits—to make the parental leave plan work.
5. Will workers’ jobs be protected if they take leave?
President Trump’s plan does not mention any protections for workers to ensure that they do not face retaliation for taking leave. It could leave even eligible workers who can afford to use the benefit vulnerable to negative repercussions when they return to work. This issue is especially troubling since the plan comes alongside other budget proposals that would undermine the government’s ability to enforce existing protections for workers, such as funding for the U.S. Department of Labor.
President Trump claims that he respects and wants to invests in women and families, yet he continues to propose incomplete and unsustainable ideas that are sure to be unsuccessful. Perhaps these policy details are not important to the Trump administration—after all, most of its policies are disconnected from the lives that most women lead. But for the millions of working families who deserve a comprehensive paid family and medical leave program—not an “unfunded, unworkable, under-inclusive” proposal—details matter a lot.
Shilpa Phadke is the senior director of the Women’s Initiative at the Center for American Progress.