This should be a welcome, landmark development for women in the U.S., the only developed country that doesn’t require some kind of paid time off for new mothers.
Instead, it amounts to nothing more than a cruel joke in a budget that proposes gruesome reductions to social programs over the next decade. The plan includes a breathtaking overall cut of $1.4 trillion to Medicaid (a figure that presumes repeal of Obamacare) and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. It also calls for a $193 billion slice out of food stamps and $272 billion in cuts to other programs that serve the poor.
The budget seeks $19 billion for paid parental leave over 10 years.
What good is the paid leave if you can’t afford to feed yourself, take your baby to the doctor, pay your hospital bills, or get access to quality pre- or post-natal care?
Advocates for paid leave, who’ve been fighting for years for change, were near universal in their condemnation of the proposal. “World’s worst parental leave plan,” said Katie Bethell, the founder of Paid Leave for the United States, a nonprofit group.
“It’s a testament to the national movement to solve the paid leave crisis that the Trump administration is even expected to offer a parental leave plan in its proposed budget. Unfortunately, based on details released so far, the proposal falls far short,” Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said in a statement.
Even if the leave provision did not come wrapped in a package of brutal cuts to social services, the policy still falls down in its details.
Trump did expand the six weeks of leave to fathers and adoptive parents, who were excluded from the plan rolled out during his presidential campaign. However, the policy leaves out those workers who would need time off in case of serious illness or to care for ailing relatives, considered a standard part of family leave.
The 1993 federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave to workers at companies with more than 50 employees, includes that type of time off ― as do state paid-leave plans in Rhode Island, California, New Jersey, and the one scheduled to go into effect next year in New York.
For funding, the Trump leave plan would rely on the unemployment insurance system, already under-financed and under-utilized. The White House leaves the details entirely to the states to work out.
Unemployment benefits are woefully inadequate, paying an average of $344 week, according to the National Employment Law Project. In 14 states unemployed workers get less than $300 a week. Fewer unemployed women typically qualify for unemployment insurance.
Theoretically, Trump’s leave plan could help someone like Regina Mays, who took six weeks of unpaid leave from her job at a Walmart in High Point, North Carolina, after she had a baby girl last year. She was earning about $10 an hour.
With no money coming in, she struggled to feed herself and her four other children at home. “There was time when I paid the bills and I literally didn’t have money for food,” Mays told HuffPost recently. A relative came by with groceries for her and her kids so they didn’t go hungry.
There was at least one thing Mays said she didn’t have to worry about: paying her hospital or doctor bills, which were covered by Medicaid.
Trump’s budget would rip that rug out from under mothers like Mays who theoretically would get about $1,800 for her six weeks at home, but without healthcare would also be on the hook for potentially tens of the thousands of dollars in medical bills.
The math is terrifying.
Cutting Medicaid would be devastating for all low-income Americans, but particularly for women and mothers: 45 percent of childbirths in the U.S. were funded by Medicaid in 2010, according to data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Trump’s budget also cuts funding for after-school programs for children and support for domestic violence victims.
The budget proposal lays bare a perverse, reverse Robin Hood administration ― taking from the poor to give tax cuts to the wealthy (proposed earlier this month).
Like most White House budgets, Trump’s is unlikely to become reality. As for the parental leave plan, Democrats see it as too skimpy. And there’s little indication that GOP lawmakers, who are typically eager to cut taxes and slash social programs, would want to give Americans what the Republicans likely view as a new entitlement.
In this case, however, no paid leave may actually be better than the alternative.