Today, President Trump released an $4.1 trillion budget that slashes many government programs in the service of making way for tax cuts designed to stimulate the economy. As with everything else in the current political environment, the budget is profoundly controversial, largely because it frays the social safety net but cutting a number of programs (food stamps, disability benefits) that benefit the less fortunate. But it’s not all cuts. The plan actually adds something fairly remarkable: $25 billion for paid family leave. The groundbreaking inclusion, reportedly made at the insistence of Ivanka Trump, is exciting news for paid leave advocates–but not in the good way.
Trump’s budget, if passed, would mandate six weeks of fully paid family leave for mothers, fathers, and adoptive parents, paid for through an Unemployment Insurance program that would begin in 2020. The $25 billion spent on the program over 10 years and would, according to the Office of Management and Budget, benefit 1.3 million caregivers. In the words of the labor budget, this is all part of a plan to “to help families recover from childbirth and to bond with their new children.”
Those words may be carefully chosen, but they are unlikely to assuage conservative critics who generally oppose all mandates, and have shown little support for leave programs in the past.
If passed, the budget would force state governments to implement state plans that might expand on the national number (six weeks is still only half of the 12-weeks recommended by doctors and advocates; The UN calls for a minimum of 14 weeks). Advocates for leave find the numbers inadequate and point out that they do little to close the leave gap between the United States and the developed world. The U.S. is currently on par with Papua New Guinea. The new budget calls for climbing the list toward Tunisia.
“Six weeks of parental leave would leave the US behind 96% of all nations.,” Katie Bethell, founder and executive director of Paid Leave for the United States, told Fatherly. “It’s a disappointing bone to throw to the millions of people who will lose health care, nutritional assistance, and child care tax credits in this profoundly anti-family budget.”
The proposed parental leave program is unprecedented in American political history, but looks less than generous within both the context of the Trump budget itself and international norms. But whether or not the program essentially borrows from parents to pay parents or moves money away from those in need towards wealthier families may not be material. The Trump budget seems more likely to stir up strong sentiment than to pass.
“The American people and members of Congress will not fall for a grossly inadequate budget plan that claims to help working families while decimating essential programs and services,” said National Partnership for Women & Families President Debra Ness in a statement. “And we will not be fooled into thinking that this paid leave plan is a real policy solution.”
Ness was joined by a number of unlikely allies on the right who had their own objections to the budget: no money to build a border wall, funding for sanctuary cities, and, naturally, the paid leave proposal itself. The budget has a long way to go before it changes policy, but it will change the conversation on paid leave. Whether or not that will lead to anything resembling agreement, much less consensus, is unclear.