Exclusive–Joni Ernst on Paid Family Leave: ‘We are the Party of Families’

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Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) spoke with Breitbart News regarding a paid family leave bill from Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and herself, charging that “We are the party of families,” and there remains an “outcry” from young families for paid family leave.

Sen. Ernst, the vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, and Lee introduced their paid family leave bill, the Cradle Act, in March, which would allow parents to obtain one, two, or three months of leave by postponing their Social Security benefits by two, four, or six months. The two senators contended that the bill would allow every new mom and dad the flexibility to raise their newborn during the critical first weeks of child-rearing without creating a government program, adding to the national deficit, or raising taxes.

In contrast, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) paid family leave plan would increase payroll taxes; Ernst said Democrats’ plan would just add “additional taxes and that’s not helpful.”

Sen. Lee previously spoke with Breitbart News about the Cradle Act in March, contending that the Republican Party should protect the family. Lee said, “I’ve long believed that the Republican Party should be the party of protecting not only the family but also the institutions of civil society.”

Paid family leave has garnered more media attention since President Trump became the first president of either party to endorse a paid family leave plan in his budget. Trump also pushed for paid family leave in his State of the Union address.

Sen. Ernst said that she and Lee have worked on this legislation for over a year and now paid family leave has been gaining momentum. Ernst said, “We have seen this in years past and Mike Lee and I have been working on this for a very long time, but it just wasn’t catching hold.”

Ernst contended that young couples struggling to make ends meet continue to cry out for paid parental leave, which would make it easier to start a family.

“There is an outcry from young parents to be able to have access to paid parental leave. The beauty of the plan that we released is that it’s not mandatory; it’s entirely voluntary. It taps into an already existing system; the infrastructure is already there through Social Security, they’re paying into this system. What they’re doing then is just delaying retirement benefit that they’re deferring,” Sen. Ernst said. “So, it’s an already existing system to help focus on the family. We are the party of families,m and when you have young mom and dads that have a newborn baby, and they can’t afford to make a car payment or a mortgage payment when they’re taking time off to be with a baby, it creates a huge amount of stress.”

Support for paid family leave crosses over partisan lines; a poll from the PL+US Fund organization found that Americans highly approved of paid family leave; a poll showed that 94 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Republicans, and 83 percent of Independents support some form of paid family leave.

Further, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) announced at an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) event on Wednesday that he will work with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) on paid family leave.

While several major companies such as Deloitte, IBM, Microsoft Corporation, General Electric, and Levi Strauss & Co., among others, support paid family leave, Sen. Ernst suggested that her legislation would help small businesses, many whom cannot afford to give their employees paid family leave.

The Iowa conservative explained, “I’ve heard from normal, every day Joe and Jane out in Iowa and just from those small business owners say, ‘You know this is really great because we’re not able to provide paid family leave, because it creates an opportunity. Of course, we give them time off but now I know that my employee they will have an income to take their time off with their baby and they are more likely to return to the workplace. They feel supported. So instead of the employee needing to take off time against me, applying for all sorts of other governmental assistance, it’s easier to start down that pathway and it’s much harder to come back to work.'”

The Iowa Republican said that many constituents have told her how they have often not been able to take their newborn baby to the doctor because their business does not offer paid family leave,

“I hear from moms that say, ‘I don’t have time off to take my baby to the doctor,'” Ernst said. The Iowa senator said that part of her inspiration for this bill comes her being a mother as well as watching fellow mothers struggle to accumulate enough savings and paid time off to take their baby to the doctor.

“Because I’m a mom and I thought that this has been very important for a very long time, and when I was the county auditor back in Montgomery County in Iowa I already had Libby [her daughter] by that time, but she was very young, and I remember taking her to work and in the evenings and I worked in the evenings a lot in at the time.”

Ernst, a former Montgomery County, Iowa, auditor, related how her deputy auditor and her husband struggled to accumulate enough savings and paid time off so that they could take their newborn baby to the doctor.

“I had a deputy who was of childbearing age, and she had a child when she was my deputy auditor, and I just remember her husband worked at the local car dealership, and I worked at my office, and they were scrambling to set aside money and for her to save up enough sick days, and they were just figuring out how long she can be off to take care of the baby, because we didn’t have paid family leave, we had to follow FMLA [Family and Medical Leave Act] but we didn’t pay for maternity leave, so she’s trying to save up sick days they’re trying to set money aside, and it’s very stressful. It is very, very stressful,” Sen. Ernst said.

Ernst also said increasing the amount her legislation would allow for Americans to spend more time with their newborn baby  will create better outcomes for their offspring.

“We know that there are external studies that will show that moms and dads that bond with their baby in the first few precious weeks – those babies go on to have better health outcomes, better educational outcomes, they’re much more adapted,” Ernst said.

The Iowa Republican added by creating a deficit-neutral paid family leave program, it can actually reduce dependence on other government welfare programs. The Cradle Act also requires that Americans have to work before tapping into their Social Security benefits to obtain paid family leave.

Ernst said, “You have to work so many quarters previously to be able to participate in the program or opt into the program. You’re encouraging people to stay in the workforce and not go on government assistance or other types of entitlement programs.”

Sean Moran is a congressional reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @SeanMoran3.

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