Bill Cassidy, Gene Mills: Paid family leave nurtures families, retains workers

Editor's note: The following column was submitted by co-authors Republican Louisiana U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy and Louisiana Family Forum President Gene Mills, a conservative Christian advocacy organization.

We are constantly in search of ideas that nurture and support families and allow them to flourish. Conversations need to continue around the idea of Paid Family Leave, which enables parents to bond with their new child in the first months after birth or adoption.

Paid Family Leave policy evokes a wide range of emotions from all sides of the political spectrum. Most Americans agree parents and children deserve reasonable and responsible paid leave once a newborn baby arrives, including 71% of conservative registered voters.

Pro-family/pro-life conservatives must engage in the debate regarding Paid Family Leave but work to ensure paid leave remains voluntary for the employee and does not create mandates on small businesses or added burdens on taxpayers.

Parents need time to bond with their newborns or newly adopted children. Early bonding can prevent behavioral issues and dangerous habits from forming. Keeping these new parents in the workforce and families flourishing is the goal. Parents should never be made to feel like having a child is a burden.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 23% of workers — and just 9% of low-wage workers — have access to paid family leave after the arrival of a child.

Bill Cassidy
Bill Cassidy

Research shows that states that have implemented paid family leave programs have seen a 20% reduction in the number of female employees leaving their jobs in the first year after giving birth, and an up to a 50% reduction after five years.

These families are faced with an unfair choice between paying the bills and bonding with the newest family member. For single moms, the situation is often worse.

In a post-Roe Louisiana, solving this problem is crucial. Louisiana women who may have once considered abortion as the only way out of a difficult economic situation need assurances, assistance and policies that encourage both continuing work and caring for their baby.

We can develop solutions that adhere to pro-family and conservative principles, don’t involve mandates and don’t increase taxes. It’s time for a meaningful conversation on ways to fund parental leave.

One example is The Strong Families Act, which created a five-year, 25% tax credit for employers who voluntarily offer up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to employees. It is available to mothers and fathers, both salaried and hourly employees. This measure was incorporated in President Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act for a two-year pilot and expanded for five years in the 2020 year-end COVID-relief package.

In 2019, myself and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona introduced the first bipartisan and bicameral plan called the Advancing Support for Working Families Act. This approach takes advantage of the Republican-passed Tax Cut and Jobs Act, which increased the Child Tax Credit from $1,000 a year to $2,000. It would allow new parents the option to receive  $5,000 in the first year, which is the most costly for new parents, and receive a $1,500 credit for the next 10 years before receiving $2,000 thereafter. This would allow parents to structure their tax credit in a way that best supports them. They can use that $5,000 initial credit for wage replacement to support time off, or if their employer already provides paid leave, they can use it to offset costly child expenses in the first year of life. We plan to reintroduce this legislation in the U.S. Senate.

If we are going to advance a pro-life ethic, it is imperative that our public policy and employers support new families. Parents need a way to fund their leave after the birth of a child without increasing their tax bill or imposing new mandates on business. It starts with having a conversation and exploring creative solutions.

This article originally appeared on Monroe News-Star: Bill Cassidy, Gene Mills: Here's how we can expand paid family leave