One of the most significant stumbling blocks for many new families is the lack of paid family leave for new parents. Every parent knows that those first few weeks and months at home with new babies are crucial and filled with things such as doctors' appointments and routine check-ups. The amount of time that parents spend with their newborn plays an important role in the parent-child relationship, as well as childhood and adolescent development. Giving every new mom and dad the flexibility to stay home for some of that time is something all Americans would like to see.
The question has always been: How do you pay for it? If government mandates businesses to cover those costs, employees and employers would suffer in the form of fewer jobs and lower wages. If taxpayers foot the bill for another massive government program, our unsustainable national debt of $22 trillion will only continue to climb.
That's why we started working on a new idea last year to provide paid family leave to all new parents – moms and dads – through the Social Security system, without burdening either employers or taxpayers.
Benefits of the Cradle Act
Our proposal, the Cradle Act, would allow natural and adoptive parents to receive one, two or three months of paid-leave benefits. A few decades down the road, those parents would then "pay" for the benefit themselves by delaying their own retirement for two, four or six months.
To choose the paid-parental-leave option, parents would first have to notify the Social Security Administration of their plan to take paid leave before the expected birth or adoption. Then, after parents applied for their baby's Social Security number, payments would begin in two weeks.
To qualify for the program, parents must have worked either four out of the previous four quarters, five out of the previous six quarters or at least 20 total quarters before an initial application is filed. Benefit levels would be determined by Social Security's primary insurance amount so monthly benefits would be more generous the lower the beneficiary's income.
These benefits would provide new families the help they need to stay home during those treasured first weeks and months. And they would do so without increasing taxes on individuals or businesses, without new job-killing regulations and without adding to our national debt.
Nor would the plan weaken the Social Security system. At all. If anything, it strengthens it, especially in the long term. Not only do beneficiaries fully repay the system by delaying their retirement, but by having and raising kids, they are making permanent, positive investments in the Social Security system itself.
In the short term, our plan redirects general revenue funds straight to the Social Security Trust Fund so it never misses a dime. A similar mechanism was used to protect Social Security during the most recent economic recovery when President Barack Obama directed general revenue funds to the Social Security Trust Fund to pay for a job-creating cut to the payroll tax.
The future of the American dream
Working families are the heart and soul of our nation. If young people can't afford to marry and start a family, then the American dream literally has no future. Unfortunately, the cost of family formation and child rearing today is higher than ever.
Some of this is government's fault. For instance, federal policy artificially inflates the costs of housing, education and health care – three key challenges young couples face. We both support reforms to lower the cost and increase access to all of the above for all folks in Iowa, Utah and elsewhere.
But in today's economy of working moms and dual-earner couples, we also need updated social insurance programs that support workers at different times of their lives, rather than just starting at retirement. The Cradle Act is a step in that direction.
Ernst, a Republican, represents Iowa in the U.S. Senate. Lee, a Republican, represents Utah in the U.S. Senate.