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Conservative Family Leave Plan Gains Traction


A group of Republican and Democratic senators is working on proposals to introduce paid family leave. Under current law, the Family Medical Leave Act (ph), new parents can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Republicans may introduce a bill that would allow parents to tap into their Social Security benefits to fund time off. Now, this plan was formed by the Independent Women's Forum, which is a conservative political group. And that group's president, Carrie Lucas, is with me now. Good morning, Ms. Lukas.

CARRIE LUKAS: Good morning.

KING: So what is the paid family leave program? Can you walk us through how this would work?

LUKAS: It's a real simple concept. People who have just had a baby or adopted a child will be given the option - it's important it's voluntary - it's just an option - to take some of their Social Security benefits to help finance time off from work in exchange for delaying their retirement eligibility. So this would be about if you take 12 weeks off, the expectation is you'd have to delay retirement eligibility for by about three months. So it's almost a week for week to offset those costs.

KING: Your idea has a lot of supporters. It also has some critics who say, look. Employers might see this as an added burden because it's going to encourage workers to take time off and to take more time off. What would you tell a worried employer who says this might not be good for me?

LUKAS: Well, most employers are trying to do right by their employees. We've seen a growing number of employers trying to offer benefits on their own when they can, even for hourly workers and part-time workers. And that's a trend we really want to have continue. And this program wouldn't create a new burden in terms of new costs. But, of course, to the extent that people are able to take more time off, that does impact employers. Most employers, I think, recognize that all women particularly who have babies are going to need to take time off anyway and are able to deal with that. And our hope would be that this would also - they would recognize that this will encourage those employees to come back to their jobs instead of possibly quitting their jobs.

KING: I've got to ask you about Social Security. This plan would be funded through Social Security. Social Security is not an untroubled program. And there are people who say, listen. This is just going to further damage it, to further erode it. What do you think about that? Is there a way to do this so that it doesn't end up hurting Social Security?

LUKAS: Yes. First, it's really important, I think, to keep this in perspective because you're right. Absolutely. Lawmakers should be thinking about Social Security's long-term financial imbalance. And that's important, and it needs to be addressed. But the important thing when you think about this program or this set of reforms is that this doesn't change Social Security's overall liabilities. Any benefits that you're taking that someone would take today would be offset by reduced benefits in the future.

KING: All right. So as you retire, when it comes time to retire, you have 12 fewer weeks or six fewer weeks of Social Security payments. I must ask you one more question. President Trump called for family leave during the Republican primary. But historically, this is not an issue that we associate with Republicans. In the last couple seconds that we have left, why now?

LUKAS: The president and Ivanka Trump have been leaders in calling for the country to do something on this issue. And there's been a fresh look at our overall entitlement programs - trying to make them more modern, more flexible and better-suited for today's workforce. And that's really what this is about.

KING: All right. Worth noting, as well, that Democrats, of course, also have their own plans which are somewhat different. Carrie Lukas is president of the Independent Women's Forum. Carrie, thank you so much.

LUKAS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHILANTHROPE'S "RELAX") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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