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

Clinton said this week paid family leave is possible by taxing the wealthy, but states have done so without soaking the rich.

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.

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