Where Hillary Clinton's Paid Family Leave Proposal Splits From What's Worked in the States

STUDIO GRAND OUEST / Shutterstock.com

In her open­ing state­ment at the first Demo­crat­ic de­bate Tues­day, Hil­lary Clin­ton men­tioned the need for paid fam­ily leave, and when asked about it later, she said it was pos­sible to pay for it by hav­ing the wealthy foot the bill.

The line may be good fod­der for Demo­crats, but look­ing at how states have done it, as well as cur­rent na­tion­al pro­pos­als, show oth­er ways to pay for the policy without soak­ing the rich.

The longest-stand­ing ex­ample of the pro­gram is in Cali­for­nia, the first state to pass paid fam­ily leave in 2002. Paid fam­ily leave is part of the State Dis­ab­il­ity In­sur­ance pro­gram, so work­ers that pay in­to that in­sur­ance pro­gram are also covered for leave.

The oth­er two states to en­act paid fam­ily leave, New Jer­sey and Rhode Is­land, have also used their already-ex­ist­ing tem­por­ary-dis­ab­il­ity-in­sur­ance pro­grams (Wash­ing­ton state passed the law, but it has yet to be en­acted).

“The three ex­ist­ing state-paid fam­ily-leave pro­grams are fun­ded by em­ploy­ee con­tri­bu­tions,” Jane Wald­fo­gel, a pro­fess­or at Columbia Uni­versity School of So­cial Work, told Na­tion­al Journ­al in an email. A pro­pos­al in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. to give work­ers six­teen weeks of paid leave would be fun­ded by em­ploy­er con­tri­bu­tions. “We are just start­ing to have the con­ver­sa­tion of how paid leave should be fun­ded.”

Dur­ing the de­bate, Clin­ton also poin­ted to le­gis­la­tion pro­posed by New York Demo­crat­ic Sen. Kirsten Gil­librand, who has ac­ted as a sur­rog­ate for Clin­ton. But in that piece of le­gis­la­tion, called the FAM­ILY Act, the pro­gram would be fun­ded by 0.2 per­cent of wages from both em­ploy­ees and em­ploy­ers, which is to say that con­tri­bu­tions would come from both em­ploy­ees and em­ploy­ers.

“Sen­at­or Gil­librand be­lieves this next elec­tion is an op­por­tun­ity to elect mem­bers of the Sen­ate and House who will vote for paid leave, and a pres­id­ent who will sign it in­to law and as Hil­lary Clin­ton said Tues­day, she’ll do just that,” Marc Brumer, a spokes­man for Gil­librand, told Na­tion­al Journ­al in a state­ment.

Heath­er Boushey, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or and chief eco­nom­ist at the Wash­ing­ton Cen­ter for Equit­able Growth, who is also ad­vising Clin­ton in a private ca­pa­city, has pro­posed hav­ing paid fam­ily leave housed with­in the So­cial Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“The way we’ve seen it be ef­fect­ive in U.S. is through payroll taxes,” Boushey toldNa­tion­al Journ­al. “Clearly there are a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent ways.”

But Boushey also said there nu­mer­ous oth­er ideas about how to make paid fam­ily leave work­able and that it was im­port­ant to start a lar­ger con­ver­sa­tion, but in­sisted there were cer­tain policy as­pects to keep in mind.

“One thing from a policy per­spect­ive to keep in mind, if you are go­ing to provide a pro­gram, you need to make sure it has a stable rev­en­ue source,” Boushey said.

There is also a mat­ter of per­cep­tion for paid leave. By hav­ing em­ploy­er con­tri­bu­tions in­stead of tax­ing the rich, paid fam­ily leave could then not be seen so much as a gov­ern­ment re­dis­tributive pro­gram where money from one group is giv­en to an­oth­er.

“The idea, ‘I pay in what I get out of it,’ seems fair to me,” Boushey said.

Clin­ton’s loud sup­port of paid fam­ily leave cer­tainly shows that it will be cru­cial part of her lar­ger policy plat­form as a can­did­ate, but as oth­er states have shown, pay­ing for so­cial wel­fare doesn’t re­quire class war­fare.

(Image via  / Shutterstock.com)

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec