The Trump administration is poised to release its 2018 budget proposal on Tuesday, and it will reportedly include a provision calling for six weeks of guaranteed paid parental leave. This is an incredibly positive development as long as you don’t spend any time thinking about what the policy actually offers working parents or what the rest of the budget does to programs that keep low- and middle-income families afloat. Those things aside, great move.
The paid leave proposal—reportedly six weeks to biological and adoptive parents, mothers and fathers—that Ivanka Trump has spent months working to develop is one portion of a budget package that reportedly calls for sweeping cuts to food assistance programs, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and disability insurance. And as Axios noted in its reporting on the budget, the draft also takes as a given that President Trump will sign a version of the American Health Care Act, the current iteration of which includes drastic cuts to Medicaid.
Taken as a whole, it is a policy that asks low-income working parents to accept six weeks at home with their children as consolation for sweeping cuts to federal entitlement programs that offer critical support for obtaining the food and healthcare these families will need for all of the following weeks of their childrens’ lives. Much of the narrative around the paid leave policy—the careful way that Ivanka Trump will reportedly have to sell it to Congress, its historic significance—tends to elide that.
“It’s a lose-lose,” Karen White, the director of the Center for Women and Work’s Working Families Program at Rutgers University, tells me. “These are social safety nets that many families rely on to get a foothold in the economy, and the paid leave program that’s being proposed is meager in terms of meeting the needs of families.”
Details are still scarce. In an interview with the Washington Post, anonymous White House officials said it is “expected to cost about $25 billion over 10 years, and will benefit about 1.3 million people.”
If the proposal is, as reported, six weeks paid leave, the United States would still not come close to matching the policies of most of its fellow wealthy nations. In the United Kingdom, paid leave for new mothers is 39 weeks. In Australia, it’s 18 weeks. Six weeks is paltry even compared to other proposals currently being floated in Congress: A Democratic bill introduced in the Senate by Kirsten Gillibrand mandates 12 weeks, and funds it through payroll contributions from employees. (This is also the model in place in states like California and New Jersey.)
And as desperately as the United States needs a paid leave policy, it’s still only one piece of what it means to parent in this country.
“When you look at any particular additional spending program that might get added in the budget it needs to be in the context of the entire budget,” Hunter Blair, a budget analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, told me. “What is the entire budget doing to help or harm?”
Proposed cuts to Medicaid included in the Trump administration-backed American Health Care Act would be catastrophic for children, a program in which 43 percent of the enrollees are kids. The “skinny budget” outline rolled out by the administration in March also includes a provision cutting $1.2 billion in grants for after-school and summer programs. Nutrition services for women and children would also be be cut at a time when they are already struggling to meet demand.
This isn’t a budget to help working families. It’s class war.