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Paid family leave is a bipartisan cause, and Ivanka Trump is leading the charge

White House summit brings politicians, policymakers, businesses together to talk about strengthening families with paid leave, high-quality childcare

Ivanka Trump arrives for the White House Summit on Child Care and Paid Leave in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Washington.
Evan Vucci, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Paid family leave and access to quality child care were the focus of a White House summit that brought together lawmakers, employers, advocates, parents and policymakers Thursday and have emerged as issues with bipartisan support.

First daughter and policy adviser Ivanka Trump said the The White House Child Care and Paid Leave Summit was driven “because we have a historic chance to pass paid parental leave and child care reform — so that every American family has the freedom to embrace the dignity of work AND the joy of raising a family.”

Lack of child care and paid leave is not a women’s issue but a family issue, though women are more impacted because they carry most of the responsibility for care, she said.

The sentiment was echoed by her father, President Donald Trump, who closed the summit, lauding Republican and Democrat members of Congress who gathered to support providing paid leave. He said his administration also wants to expand child care options and reduce regulations so parents can choose what kind of care they want, “including both in-home and faith-based care.”

“The single most important investment we can ever make is in our children,” he said. Of working families, he added, “We are going to help them. We’re going to help them a lot.”

Ivanka Trump said the federal government has done some of that work already. She noted passage this week of 12 weeks paid parental leave for federal workers, earlier doubling of the child tax credit so 40 million families will receive on average around $2,200, and the creation of a tax credit for employers who offer those workers making less than $72,000 paid leave. She also said President Trump signed the biggest funding increase to the Child Care and Development Block grants, allowing roughly 800,000 American families to access quality care.

Paid leave and access to child care have long been issues embraced by Democrats and remain talking points by those vying for the party’s presidential nomination. Examples include Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who wants universal childcare for preschoolers; Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, whose proposal includes three months of paid family leave; and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who is sponsoring a bill to expand eligibility for block grant child care subsidies and provide income-eligible students who are parents with free child care.

Broad support

Most Americans support giving parents paid parental leave at the birth or adoption of a child, according to the most recent annual American Family Survey, conducted by YouGov for the Deseret News and Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. The nationally representative poll found majorities support paid leave for mothers, regardless of political affiliation. Republicans were less supportive of paid leave for fathers (37%), while majorities of both Democrats and Independents approve of that, as well.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called the birth of a child “perhaps the most momentous event parents will ever experience and both the mom and dad want to be part of that experience.” He expressed hope that employers would invest in letting parents spend time at home with their kids, but said proposed legislation that allows parents to pay themselves to stay home using a draw on future social security benefits would give parents that option, too.

After the summit, he told Deseret News Opinion Editor Boyd Matheson on KSL NewsRadio’s “Inside Sources” that he was “pretty encouraged that we are really making progress on family leave. ... We know the first year or two of a child’s development is critical for development of their brain and long-term future.”

Romney said “now is the time” for the parties to come together and provide paid leave.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, predicted lives of both parents and children will be better if paid leave is passed. “Scripture says how terrible things can pass down generation to generation. This is a wonderful thing that can pass up from generation to generation,” he said.

It’s important that legislation allow for flexibility and not decide for parents how they should structure their leave, Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa said. For the taxpayer’s sake, it should be as budget neutral as possible.

The driving principles

Utah businessman Jim Sorenson, founder of Catalyst Opportunities Funds and the Sorenson Impact Foundation, described himself as an impact investor, investing in businesses and social enterprises that address society’s problems. “I can think of no better ultimate return than investing in the next generation,” he said, noting child care and early education help determine children’s brain development in ways that inform the rest of their lives. He also touted public-private partnerships that invest in early childhood education and intervention.

“Child care can be an essential piece of helping Americans attain self-sufficiency and economic independence,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters in a pre-summit briefing.

Azar said the White House will focus on guiding child care principles that are practical and make sense. Those include enabling parents to make wise child care decisions and reauthorizing the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act, set to expire in 2021. The administration wants to boost the supply of child care and give families more choices, along with helping modernize the industry’s business model. Looking at regulations to make sure they make sense and don’t stifle access or drive up costs is important, he said, as is boosting the number of workers in the child care field and creating a “rational financing framework” for child care and early childhood education.

Congress is considering different paid leave bills and the summit — and by extension, the administration — did not express a preference for a particular approach. But it demonstrated clear bipartisan support for making quality child care and paid leave available to help families struggling to raise their families and provide for them.

The Council of Economic Advisers plans to release a related report on how child care costs and availability impact the economy and keep qualified workers out of the labor force.