Marco Rubio and Ivanka Trump Want to Eat Into Social Security to Pay for Family Leave

Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio Photo by Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Of 193 countries on the planet, only a handful do not offer paid job leave for new parents: Suriname, Papua New Guinea, a few island nations in the Pacific — and the United States, the richest country in the world and only "developed" nation on the list. In light of how many other countries have solved this problem, fixing the issue should be easy.

But Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and so-called presidential adviser Ivanka Trump have taken the lead in a GOP effort to institute family leave and have proposed a bunch of terrible ways to pay for the plan.

"Rubanka," as the Huffington Post referred to the duo earlier this year, has pushed an idea from a conservative group called the Independent Women's Forum, which would give new parents paid parental leave — as long as the money comes out of their own Social Security savings. A new study from the nonprofit Urban Institute released last week warns the plan would wind up tearing other aspects of the social-safety net away from parents. Instead of taking an economic hit when they have children, parents who take leave under the "Trumbio" plan would wind up losing substantial chunks of their retirement benefits.

"The parental leave program would erode participants’ retirement security," the Urban Institute warns.

According to the Urban Institute, the program would, theoretically, provide real but somewhat meager paid parental leave upfront, which is more than Americans are currently guaranteed by law. The question is whether this particular solution is worth pushing for if its paid for Social Security. The Urban Institute warns the upfront benefits in this case amount to an average of $4,300 distributed over 12 weeks, which is roughly $358 per week.

That relatively small check then comes with some obvious other drawbacks. For example, a parent who takes a paid, 12-week break to care for a child would have to delay her or his eligibility for Social Security benefits by 25 weeks, meaning the proposal wouldn't let parents take a break from work so much as it would force them to make up the lost time later with some interest. The average person would also lose 3.2 percent of his or her total retirement benefits — about $430 per year — for taking paid parental time.

However, most couples typically have more than one child, and the benefit cuts get steeper the more breaks a person takes. Taking two breaks would mean 50 weeks of delayed retirement plus 5.5 percent of your lifetime benefits cut. Taking four 12-week breaks would equal a nearly two-year delay in being able to retire and a 10 percent loss of Social Security benefits.

"As concern grows about the financial security of future retirees, it is hard to justify programs that divert resources from retirement," two Urban Institute researchers wrote in a follow-up blog at the end of last week. "Funding parental leave with Social Security could increase pressure to use Social Security for other needs, such as student loan forgiveness and mid-career education, further eroding future retirement security."

The new study adds to earlier criticism of the "Marvanka" proposal from advocates for women, parents, and the elderly. The nonprofit National Employment Law Project said the idea "leaves working families behind, undermines retirement plans, and weakens Social Security." Leftist Washington Post columnist Elizabeth Bruenig said the idea "punishes those who choose to have kids" and asked why a basic tax on everyone couldn't fix the problem. Others, including the Urban Institute itself, warn that opening Social Security for nonretirement uses is a Pandora's box that, once unlatched, could make it easier for lawmakers to let you raid the program to pay off student debt, mortgages, or other major purchases.

Plus, others have questioned whether the plan is part of a larger conservative push to undermine the already beleaguered Social Security system until the GOP can finally move forward with plans to end the program through privatization — something Rubio hinted at after the Republican's debt-expanding tax-cut package passed last year.

"Society depends on children’s future productivity, yet many of the costs of raising children remain private," the Urban Institute warns. "Should we ask parents to self-finance investments in the next generation by borrowing from their retirement, or should we assume greater collective responsibility, as other high-income nations do?"
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.