WASHINGTON — Congressional lawmakers have proposed a bill that would allow parents to access Social Security benefits early in order to take time off from work after the birth or adoption of a child. The “New Parents Act” was introduced on Wednesday.
The bill is being co-sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Mitt Romney, R-Utah. Reps. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, and Ann Wagner, R-Mo., are acting as co-sponsors for the measure in the House of Representatives.
“Our proposal would let new parents pull forward a portion of their Social Security benefits for one, two or three months of paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child,” said Rubio at a press conference introducing the bill March 27.
In exchange for accessing Social Security benefits early, retirement would be delayed by a period of about six months per child for which the funds are accessed. Alternatively, a person could receive a reduced Social Security benefit for five years after retirement in order to pay back the benefits that were received early.
Rubio said that the New Parents Act aimed to create “maximum flexibility” for parents and would be entirely optional and voluntary. No one would be required to receive Social Security benefits for paid family leave if they did not want to.
The New Parents Act would also allow parents to share maternity and paternity leave between them, rather than one or the other parent having to take the entire period themselves. One parent could choose to take a certain number of weeks off from work at 100% of their income, and the other parent could decide to take two months off with 120% of their income in benefits.
“The benefit would be transferable between the parents in the household and available to working and stay-at-home moms and dads alike,” explained Rubio. He also stressed that the bill would not increase taxes or the national debt, nor would it put new taxes or mandates on small businesses.
Romney spoke about how the bill would help young families, particularly those in his home state.
“We have a lot of kids in Utah,” said Romney, noting that his is one of only two states in which the birthrate exceeds deaths. Romney said that, while speaking to his constituents, he kept hearing concerns about the financial difficulties families face when they take time away from work to raise a newborn child.
“This piece of legislation allows something to happen that will help ease that burden,” said Romney.
Currently, the fertility rate in the United States is at its lowest ever, and no state is currently reproducing at above the replacement level of 2.1 children per family.
When asked what else could be done to encourage families to have children, Romney told CNA that increased tax credits, a robust economy and more competitive job market would incentivize employers to create family-friendly policies.
“I think employers are going to increasingly recognize, as we have more and more jobs being created and a tighter and tighter labor market, employers are going to find practices that allow people to raise families and still work,” said Romney.
“You’re going to see those kind of innovations occurring as employers want to attract the best and brightest and have them work in their enterprises,” he said. “So one of the things we can do is have such a strong economy, so many jobs being created, that employers are increasing the flexibility allowed for workers to be able to raise families."
The New Parents Act is one of three paid family-leave bills currently being considered by Congress. The bill was announced one day after the Senate voted on the Green New Deal, major supporters of which have suggested having children could be bad for the environment.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., has previously suggested that younger people might not have children because of fears about climate change.
“And so, it’s basically like, there is a scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult and does lead, I think, young people, to have a legitimate question. You know, should — is it okay to still have children?” Ocasio-Cortez said in a video stream on Instagram last month.
Earlier this month, Catherine Pakaluk, assistant professor of social research and economic thought at Catholic University in Washington, told CNA that declining fertility is a far more pressing concern than environmental factors.
“I think [millennials] should probably be a lot more worried about what our economy looks like without kids, because that actually does give me a moment of fear,” Pakaluk said.
At the press conference Wednesday, Romney underscored that the New Parents Act would not require additional government spending, and “this is something entirely based upon the principle of personal responsibility.”
The USCCB said in August of 2018 that the bishops “encourage and welcome” various legislative proposals on paid family leave.