Trump Administration eyes Social Security-funded paid family leave program–but with what Social Security money?

Paid family leave was an oft-mentioned idea during the 2016 presidential campaign that dropped off the radar until this year’s State of the Union Address. Trump used this platform to renew his support for the idea:

“As tax cuts create new jobs, let us invest in workforce development and job training. Let us open great vocational schools so our future workers can learn a craft and realize their full potential. And let us support working families by supporting paid family leave.”

Now First Daughter Ivanka Trump is reportedly teaming up with Florida Senator Marco Rubio to craft legislation creating a paid leave plan that neither raises taxes or forces employers to foot the bill.

What they’re envisioning is likely to resemble the Independent Women’s Forum’s policy proposal to create a “budget-neutral” paid family leave program that “provides paid parental leave to every worker in the United States at no additional cost.”

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That sounds lovely, but “at no additional cost?” How is that possible?

The IWF plan being considered by Trump and Rubio would offer workers 12 weeks of paid leave at the cost of six weeks deferred retirement. If a family has a new child, they can elect to push their minimum retirement age back six weeks for double the amount of paid time off to care for their new arrival.

Bloomberg estimates for the average first-time mother (around 26 years old) making $31,100 annually with five years of work history, this plan would pay about $300 per week (or $3,600 for the entire leave period).

Proponents of the proposal argue Social Security has too long been viewed as strictly a benefit program for older Americans. They’d like to see Social Security expanded to provide benefits for workers of all ages and in all stages of life.

At face value, who wouldn’t disagree with that sentiment? Being a young parent is tough–not all young workers have access to paid leave through their employers, and becoming a parent at any age is exhausting and expensive.

But while any parent can sympathize with those just starting out, it’s hard to ignore the glaringly obvious problem with this plan:

Social Security is insolvent.

The United States lags behind its peers in the realm of paid parental leave. The United States averages around four million births per year, and currently, one in four mothers are back at work within 10 days of giving birth.

And while deferring Social Security filings might help to stagger benefit payments in the future, it wouldn’t offset the potentially one million mothers per year who could choose to defer retirement in order to collect a paid leave benefit now.

How can we expand the Social Security system to benefit one million more people per year when the Trust Fund is already paying out more than it collects in payroll taxes?

How can we make promises to new parents borrowing against future benefits when we still don’t have policy in place to pay full scheduled benefits to retirees past 2034?

And how can we put seniors who depend on Social Security at risk by increasing pressure on Social Security without doing anything to restore solvency?

These are important questions our lawmakers need to be asking themselves before they make ANY serious policy pitches that involve expanding Social Security benefits before shoring up the Trust Fund for CURRENT beneficiaries.

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