Donald Trump announced a plan for what he referred to as “six paid weeks of paid maternity leave” and provided more information about other aspects of his proposed child-care policies during a Tuesday evening speech in Aston, Pennsylvania.
“Safe, affordable, high-quality child care should not be the luxury of a fortunate few,” said Ivanka Trump, the Republican presidential nominee’s daughter, in a speech introducing her father. “Historically, this has not been an area that has received nearly as much attention in the policy world as it deserves.”
“[It’s] going to make a lot of people very happy, a lot of moms very happy,” Trump said of his proposals, upon taking the stage. “Child care is such a big problem. We’re going to solve that problem. That means we need working mothers to be fairly compensated for their work and have access to affordable, quality child care for their kids.” The plan he released along with his remarks Tuesday did not include efforts to push for equal pay, or to fairly compensate or train child-care workers.
Trump went on to highlight the main components of his child-care plan, including his pitch to create “a crucial safety net for working mothers whose employers do not provide paid maternity leave” by providing “six weeks of paid maternity leave to any mother with a newborn child.” He did not specify what the wage-replacement rate would be under this plan, but his campaign’s fact sheet notes that the “benefit would only equal what would be paid to a laid-off employee, which is much less than a workers’ [sic] regular paycheck.”
The plan would seemingly not extend paid paternity leave to new fathers, or allow workers paid time off to deal with their own health or that of a sick family member—another key aspect, advocates say, of a robust paid family leave platform.
Vicki Shabo, vice president at the nonprofit National Partnership for Women & Families, noted during a Wednesday interview with Rewire that an effective paid family leave policy must include extending benefits to men. “We can’t create a system that is reinforcing gender stereotypes and perpetuating the motherhood penalty,” said Shabo, adding that this “is something that could very well happen if you only offer paid leave for moms.”
Perhaps attempting to pre-empt this line of criticism, the plan’s fact sheet claims that offering a maternity leave policy will not make women less desirable to employers, as “the cost to an employer of hiring should not be affected by this fully-offset policy, so the employer should not view hiring women as adding to their costs of Unemployment Insurance.” However, the motherhood penalty, a term used to describe a wage penalty many women encounter upon becoming mothers, occurs for a number of reasons other than perceived costs to employers. It can also occur when, for example, employers discriminate “against mothers by assuming lower work commitment or performance,” according to a study published by research group Third Way.
Trump said that the six weeks of paid maternity leave would be completely paid for “by recapturing fraud and improper payments in the unemployment insurance program,” according to the Republican nominee.
His plan still raises two major questions, as Vox’s Libby Nelson reported: the cost of its implementation, and whether or not the funding needed to do so would be available by addressing fraud.
“There’s about $3 billion in unemployment fraud in the US every year,” wrote Nelson “Even if Trump managed to drastically reduce unemployment insurance fraud, something he’s never mentioned a specific plan to do, he’d save a couple of billion at the most. Guaranteeing family leave would cost multiple times that.”
Compounding the issue is the fact that the unemployment system—which is administered separately by each state—is already underfunded in many places. And as Bryce Covert at ThinkProgress reported, “Because unemployment insurance is run by the states, there is no way to force them all to participate in something like providing paid maternity leave, similar to the patchwork of states that have and have not decided to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.”
Clarifying details of his August proposal to allow parents fully deduct the average cost of child care in their state from their income taxes, Trump said that parents—including adoptive parents and foster parent guardians—could make those deductions for their children “from birth through the age of 13.” According to a fact sheet on his plan posted to the Trump campaign’s website, families could deduct expenses “for up to four children and elderly dependents,” and would allow stay-at-home parents to also benefit from the deductions.
Those who earn more than $250,000, or $500,000 if filing jointly, would not be eligible, though it would be made available to tax filers who use both standard as well as itemized deductions. This seemingly addresses some criticism of Trump’s initial release of the proposal, such as experts’ claims that it would disadvantage low-income earners who often choose standard deductions.
For low-income families with no tax liability, Trump would offer an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) “in the form of a child-care rebate,” that would equal “up to half of their total payroll tax.”
He would allow parents to open and contribute tax free to what he called a “family care savings account,” or Dependent Care Savings Accounts (DCSAs), according to his campaign’s fact sheet. That money can be used for “traditional child care, after-school enrichment programs and school tuition-contributing to school choice.” However, only $2,000 could be contributed to the account each year tax free, according to Trump’s speech.
Trump’s plan also included a call for employer incentives for on-site child care.
Though Trump falsely claimed during his speech that “his opponent has no child care plan” and “never will,” Hillary Clinton released her own child-care agenda in May, promising to cap costs at 10 percent of a family’s income and to implement a program to address the low wages many who work in the industry face. Child care has also been a component of other policy platforms put out by the Democrat’s campaign, including her plans for early childhood education.
The Democratic nominee also released details of her plan to address paid family leave, in January. Her plan offers 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave with a two-thirds wage replacement rate. That would cost $300 billion over ten years, according to estimates from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which Clinton says she would pay for by raising the taxes of the wealthy.
The plans of both Trump and Clinton vary widely, but there is little doubt of the need to address paid family leave and child-care policies in the country. The United States is the only country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that does not mandate paid maternity leave, and is one of just nine countries in the organization that fails to offer paid paternity leave policies. Studies have also found that child-care costs in the country are often pricier than rent, food, and even college tuition.
According to Shabo, having both major-party nominees address these issues is “momentous, to say the least.”
“This has never happened before. I think it’s a reflection of a growing consensus that the policies that we have are very outdated. That they don’t reflect the needs of working families, particularly families where women are breadwinners,” she said. “These are challenges that people are facing day-to-day …. and we now know that there are solutions that work, and we’re really leaving human capital and economic opportunity on the table by failing to address them.”