Today, Trump campaign representatives spelled out a plan he is prepared to unveil tonight to provide six weeks of paid maternity leave to new parents through unemployment benefits for those whose employers don’t offer paid maternity leave. There are a number of immediately obvious problems with the plan.
(Birth?) Mothers Only
According to reporting by the Washington Post, the plan would apply to mothers and not be transferable to fathers. This flies in the face of considerable research showing that when fathers take paternity leave, it leads to a number of positive outcomes for children and parents. For example, when men take leave to care for a new child, women are able to return to work more quickly, preventing longer absences from work that lead to the gender pay gap. Men who take leave are also more likely to be involved with caregiving (and other household chores) months and years down the road.
Experts are also concerned whenever a mandatory benefit only applies to women, it could lead to employment discrimination as employers attempt to avoid hiring anyone who might actually take advantage of the benefit.
There are no early indications that the plan would apply to adoptive parents. Nor would it apply to other forms of family-related leave, such as caring for one’s own or a family member’s ill health. As Sarah Glynn from the Center for American Progress noted:
“You could recover from childbirth but not heart surgery.”
Many Employees Excluded or Unprotected
It is not yet clear whether the benefit would be universal or job-protected. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but only if they are among the 59 percent of U.S. workers who have been employed for at least a year at workplaces with 50 or more employees. The key benefit of FMLA leave is that a worker cannot lose their job while on leave. Nothing from the Trump camp suggests that their maternity leave plan would be either universal or that it would guarantee a woman’s job would be there when she returns.
Unemployment Insurance Is A Terrible Vehicle
Unemployment Insurance is a program administered by the states, under guidelines set by the federal government in which states have flexibility to establish eligibility guidelines and benefit levels. Under the Trump plan, states would need to voluntarily expand eligibility and change their laws to allow women to temporarily leave work after the birth of a child. Further, states fund unemployment benefits through taxes on employers, so the added cost would need to be paid for at the state level, likely in the form of higher taxes and/or cuts in benefits. Given that, no one should expect all states to adopt the program; and those that do could have widely inconsistent eligibility rules and benefit levels.
No New Funding
While Team Trump claims their plan is “completely self-financing,” the funding source they cite is the elimination of “waste, fraud and abuse” in the unemployment system. There’s estimated to be around $3 billion in unemployment fraud in the US every year, a small fraction of what it would take to pay for a new universal benefit. And state unemployment compensation trust funds are already in severe financial jeopardy, as many are still repaying loans taken out when high job loss during the recession ate through their fund balances. If waste, fraud and abuse were easy to root out, states would have already targeted it to improve the health of their ailing funds.
Furthermore, the Trump plan provides no additional funding for states to administer the new benefit, or to pursue the elimination of waste, fraud and abuse.
Trump will formally speak about his plan at a campaign event this evening in Pennsylvania. More details will be helpful, but it’s very hard to see how the plan as we currently understand it will be either workable or universal.