Trump and Clinton Bring Paid Leave and Child Care to Presidential Agendas

Both candidates have offered competing proposals in one area that agrees with Church social teaching.

(photo: IVASHstudio /

WASHINGTON — Both Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton have sharp agenda differences — both with the teaching of the U.S. bishops and each other — but in one area they all agree: The U.S. needs to provide support to parents who care for children and the elderly, including paid leave and targeted tax breaks.

Having both the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates embrace paid leave in their domestic agendas is a first for a U.S. presidential campaign race. It also puts the U.S. another step closer to joining the rest of the industrialized world in providing paid leave to new parents. Currently, the U.S. is one of just eight nations that do not mandate any paid leave to either parent, alongside nations such as Suriname, Papa New Guinea and Tonga.

According to a May 2016 Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey, 72% of adults supported paid family leave, including strong majorities of Republicans, Democrats and Independents.

While Trump unveiled his agenda for working-class families on Sept. 13, Clinton has made paid leave part of her agenda since April 2015. Each proposes establishing federally subsidized paid leave and accompanying tax reforms to achieve their goals of helping working families’ economic situations.


Trump and Clinton Plans

Trump’s plan, “Child-Care Reforms to Make America Great Again,” will allow working parents — individuals earning up to $250,000 or $500,000 filing jointly — to deduct expenses for up to four children and elderly dependents. The plan also recognizes the unpaid economic contribution of stay-at-home parents by offering them the same tax deduction as working parents, “allowing them to choose the child-care scenario that’s in their best interest.”

Lower-income families will be able to take advantage of child-care spending rebates through the existing Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

Trump’s plan also would create Dependent Care Savings Accounts (DCSAs) for families to offset the costs of child care, elder care or care for other adult dependents. The accounts are available from certain employers as Flexible Spending Accounts, but Trump’s plan would make them available to everyone and allow balances to accumulate from year to year. The funds set aside for minors could be used to apply to child care, after-school programs or tuition; or in-home nursing and long-term care for elderly dependents.

The government will also put in a $500 match for the first $1,000 deposited into a DCSA each year, in order to assist lower-income parents.

Trump’s plan offers six weeks of paid maternity leave through companies’ existing mandatory unemployment insurance in cases where employers don’t offer paid maternity leave.

It further states that the program will be paid for by stimulating economic growth and by reducing waste in current benefit programs.

Hillary Clinton’s plan provides up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave to care for a new child, family member or recover from serious illness or injury. According to this plan, workers would get “at least two-thirds of their current wages” up to a ceiling (as yet unspecified) while on leave. Like Trump, Clinton asserts the plan would not impose additional costs on businesses, small and large, but has not specified how it would work.

Unlike Trump’s plan, Clinton’s leave plan would apply to both mothers and fathers.

Clinton also seeks to cap child-care costs at 10% of a person’s income. Other aspects of her child-care plans include awarding scholarships to assist college students with children and expand child care on campuses.

As for paying for her program, Clinton stated she can pay for the plan by increasing taxes on wealthy U.S. citizens and closing “loopholes” in the tax code, while exempting working families.


Possibilities and Problems

Angela Rachidi, a research fellow in poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), told the Register that both the Trump and Clinton plans are not perfect, but they are going “in the right direction” by recognizing the need for family policies in child-care relief and paid leave for working families.

According to a U.S. Department of Labor report, 70% of mothers with children under 18 are working, and 62% of them have a child under a year old. For married couples, mothers also contribute 43% of the household income. 

A 2004 Urban Institute study found that 41% of parents with incomes within 200% of the federal poverty line had no access to paid leave of any kind.

According to Rachidi, each plan recognizes that paid leave is an important issue to working Americans, while trying to avoid having employers foot the bill.

At the same time, Rachidi said the negative aspect of both plans was that they were “both expensive” and did not outline effective ways to pay for them, in her opinion.

She added that Trump’s plan to pay for maternity leave through the existing unemployment insurance system was probably a “viable component,” but trying to finance it without adding more revenue to the system did not seem “all that well thought out.”

Clinton’s plan to cap child-care expenses to 10% of one’s income was “one positive aspect,” Rachidi said, but Clinton would have to address potential unintended consequences, such as people seeking more expensive child-care options because they know it would be covered. 

She added that both campaigns have missed opportunities to focus on removing work disincentives and benefit cliffs in public policy that negatively affect working families’ economic mobility.

Still, Trump’s focus on paid family leave has brought the Republican Party back into the discussion about child care.

“He has moved into an area that Democrats for the past decade have dominated policy-wise,” Rachidi said.


Supporting Families

Both proposals respond to calls made by the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference over the last 30 years for the institution of family-friendly workplace policies.

The U.S. Catholic bishops issued a pastoral letter in 1991, “Putting Children and Families First,” that called for “family and medical leave for parents of newborns, sick children and aging parents,” along with child-care-friendly workplace policies and flexible employment conditions for parents. They stated that parents need to feel their jobs will be secure if they have to take care of a new child, a sick spouse or a dying parent.

“Passage of a family-leave bill would not only protect the jobs of parents whose employers might otherwise penalize them for taking time for family responsibilities, but it would also send a message that the nation sees children as a real priority for all of society,” they said at the time.

According to Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, both campaigns have shown a “laudable” impulse to help families.

“Raising kids is expensive,” he told the Register, “but it impacts the next generation.”

Wilcox noted that Trump’s paid six-week maternal-leave plan would benefit working mothers recovering from birth, but Clinton’s paid 12-week parental leave plan would help fathers and mothers “establish a strong attachment” with their babies.

And one of the limitations to Trump’s approach with regard to providing tax relief for child care, he said, is that more affluent families would see more financial benefit than poorer families.

However, he said both candidates’ agendas still fall short of an intentional program to stabilize marriages that are key to social and economic upward mobility.

Wilcox explained that families today need to have more time for family leisure and entertainment, so they can develop a common life and develop strong bonds. While federal policy in the economic realm may help families in this regard, he said, ultimately the main problems for families are cultural. And the cultural messages about family life and marriage do not primarily come from Washington, but from Hollywood and the advertising giants of Madison Avenue broadcasting through people’s smartphones.

“The fundamental point is that public policy per se is not going to make a large difference in families’ lives.”


Good Ideas, Flawed Candidates

Jacqueline Rivers, executive director of Harvard University’s Seymour Institute on Black Church and Policy Studies, noted both Trump and Clinton are advancing good points — but also serious flaws from a “pro-poor, pro-life, pro-family” standpoint.

Trump’s plan treats families with two married providers, and families with one provider and one spouse dedicated to full-time care for children, dependent adults or elderly, in a more equal fashion than Clinton’s plan, according to the Harvard professor, who is Christian.

However, she noted, Clinton’s plan takes into more consideration the need for mother, father and child to bond with each other in the first three months, instead of placing the child in the care of strangers at day care. Infants, in particular, she added, are often nursing and need far more attention at six weeks than at three months. And having a paycheck at two-thirds of one’s income during this period provides more financial stability than unemployment insurance.

But while paid family leave may help reduce abortion by reassuring women that they can take time off, have some financial support and keep their jobs, Rivers indicated that Clinton offsets that potential by pushing for public funding of abortion in addition to promoting policies that further undermine marriage as the basis of the family. Trump, meanwhile, has advocated the deportation of unauthorized immigrants and has made flippant statements on race and religion over the course of his campaign, which, in Rivers’ view, collectively tear at the fabric of society.

Rivers also thinks that neither candidate’s policy is likely to see the light of day.

But at the very least, the country finally will have a debate on how to serve the needs of working families.

Rivers said, “The good news is both of these candidates are addressing the issue of child care.”

Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff reporter.