The White House hosted a summit on paid leave Thursday, hours after the House passed a bill with 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers.
“We’re here today to support the heroic calling of working moms and dads,” President Donald Trump said Dec. 12 at the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House. Attending the summit on paid leave and child care were members of Congress and business leaders.
Trump called families the “heart, soul, and backbone for our nation.” He noted the importance of giving mothers the “precious chance” to spend time with a new child through policies allowing them to take leave from work with some sort of compensation.
On Wednesday evening, the House overwhelmingly passed the “conference report” for a massive defense spending bill—the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)—that was the result of negotiations between members of the House and Senate. The bill received 377 votes and 48 votes against.
Among its provisions, the bill contains 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal employees, beginning next October.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) praised the inclusion of paid parental leave in the report as a “significant first step” towards the goal of full paid family and medical leave.
He called for federal civilian employees and private sector employees to see the same benefits, and said he sent a letter to the conference when it appeared that only Department of Defense employees would receive paid parental leave in the bill.
The White House also praised the inclusion of paid parental leave for federal employees in a statement on Tuesday.
At Thursday’s summit, both the President and his daughter Ivanka, who serves as an advisor to the president, pushed for paid family leave as a next step in policy, and President Trump emphasized the importance of “expanded access to quality, affordable child care.”
“As the country’s largest employer, we must lead by example,” Ivanka Trump said, referring to the federal government. “We have a historic chance to pass paid family leave and child care reform,” she said, in order to promote the “dignity of work and the joy of raising a family.”
Members of Congress participated in two panels on paid leave at Thursday’s White House summit, giving acknowledgement to the House passage of the NDAA.
Some of those who need paid leave the most—low-income workers—are also much less likely to have benefits, said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) introduced the New Parents Act earlier in 2019 to allow parents to draw from Social Security benefits to defray the cost of leave at the birth of a child.
“The advantage” of paid leave, Rubio said, “is the ability to not have to go on public assistance or debt when you have a child.” Ironically, “the people who can least afford to do that” are much less likely to have paid leave, he said.
Studies show that the vast majority of African-American mothers are the primary breadwinner in a household, Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) said. According to a report of the Black Women’s Roundtable “State of Black Women in the U.S. & Key States, 2019,” more than 70% of black mothers are the sole or primary breadwinners in their families.
The working poor might be back at work one or two days after the birth of a child, she said, leaving their children with a neighbor or family member. “The impact this is having on the child,” she said, “on the mother and her own health and well-being, is extraordinary.”
Policies like paid parental and family leave have a multi-layered benefit and are not just a financial bump for families, members said.
“If we’re going to think holistically” about improving health care while lowering costs, “these pieces of legislation actually feed into that,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said. Scripture talks about the generational effects of sin, he said, and the passage of paid leave policies “is a wonderful thing that will pay off upwards” through generations.
Studies show that children experience better behavioral outcomes when they have a parent at home right after birth, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said, showing “the long-term benefits of that initial bonding time.”
The financial strain of a lack of paid leave time results not just in a lack of resources for families, Rep. Joe Cunningham (R-S.C.) said, but takes an “emotional toll” on them. The work of “relieving that anxiety and relieving those pressures,” he said, “at the core of it, that’s why this is so important.”
Cunningham also pointed to the need for better paternity leave policies as he shared his story of the birth of his son when he, as a member of a small law firm, returned to work two days after his son’s birth.
“I regret that,” he said of his prompt return to work, noting that he was absent “for the bonding of my son Boone” and in “being there for my wife.”
“There’s no manual for having kids,” he said. “It’s emotionally draining,” yet “just being there” for one’s spouse “means the world.”
“It’s a shame that we are the only country in the industrialized world that does not have a full-on paid family leave program,” Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) said, calling the provision in the NDAA a “huge victory” and a “win-win.”