The Republican Plan for Paid Family Leave: Cannibalize Social Security

That so-called “pro-family” agenda of today’s Republican party? Not so much. Their latest idea: cannibalize Social Security to fund paid family leave, and have parents work longer into old age (or take lower benefits).

It’s a backdoor attempt, both shrewd and crass, to privatize and cut Social Security — one that would add yet another financial penalty to the list that women pay when they become mothers.

Via the New York Times:

Paid leave for new parents, long a Democratic cause, has become a Republican one, too. But policymakers don’t agree on what a leave plan should look like. Now some Republicans have a new idea: Let people collect Social Security benefits early to pay for time off after they have a baby.

Unlike some other proposals, this would require no new taxes. There’s a catch, though: Parents would have their Social Security benefits delayed when they retire to offset the costs.

Social Security has long been viewed as an untouchable part of the social safety net. By letting people tap it for parental leave, it would begin to feel more like an individual account — an idea conservatives have been trying to advance for decades.

Later in the article, this quote (from Carrie Lukas, who heads up a right-wing think tank that supports the plan) illustrates just how out-of-touch this idea really is: “Sixty-seven is really late middle age, and many people are really happy to continue working.”

Really? Happy to continue working? Or have no choice but to continue working?:

A 2016 study by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that one-quarter of workers 50 and older say they won’t retire. Among low wage workers, earning less than $50,000 a year, it was 33 percent.

Another 2016 report, by the nonpartisan research nonprofit National Institute on Retirement Security, shows that many black, Latina and Asian women have to work past retirement age to be able to afford basic expenses. Women were 80 percent more likely than men to be impoverished. For men between 70 and 74, about 19 percent of their income comes from wages. For women, it’s about 15 percent.

Aside from tone-deafness and utter lack of connection to the daily lives of working people, Republicans actually do have one part of this right: the Social Security Administration is a great place to set up a national paid family leave program — overhead is very low, staff and infrastructure are already in place, etc. But the way to pay for it is…wait for it…to actually pay for it instead of making workers borrow from their future benefits — like this:

The Family Act, a bill sponsored in the Senate by Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, would create a new fund within the Social Security Administration. Employers and employees would each contribute 0.2 percent of their wages for 12 weeks of paid parental, family or medical leave.

Sen. Gillibrand’s proposal builds on Social Security’s proven history, and is a lot like Washington state’s own recently-passed Family and Medical Leave Insurance: workers and employers both contribute to a shared insurance fund that’s available when needed, without a penalty later on in life.

In other words, it’s a model for building on (and upholding) a real social contract, instead of shredding it.

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