Beyond the CRADLE: Working Parents Deserve a Better Paid Leave Program

It’s a testament to our movement that people across the political spectrum are acknowledging the need for a national paid leave program. But this issue is about more than lip service.

We need a national paid leave program that is effective and sustainable. We need one that will reach those who need it the most. And we need to ensure that any paid leave program will not threaten other key areas of support for working families.

The CRADLE Act, recently proposed by Senators Ernst and Lee, fails to meet any of those criteria.

“Mother and sons, on their way to school” by Ed Yourdon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Similar to the paid leave bill earlier introduced by Sen. Rubio, this proposal would have parents of a new child draw income while on leave by raiding their own Social Security accounts—forcing both a delay in retirement and a cut in benefits for working parents. 

According to an Urban Institute analysis of the Rubio proposal, this approach would cause a six-month delay in eligibility for Social Security for each three-month leave benefit taken. The delay applies no matter when a beneficiary chooses to retire.

Under laws like these, a typical parent of two children in the U.S. would experience an estimated seven percent reduction in lifetime Social Security benefits. And those who most depend on Social Security in their later years and are least likely to have paid leave through their employer, the same people traditionally excluded by U.S. employment laws—low-wage workers, people of color, women and especially those at the intersections—would be disproportionately impacted.

The CRADLE Act is aptly named—because it would leave many babies alone in theirs. To be eligible, a parent must reside with their child for more than half the year, explicitly excluding non-custodial parents who want to be involved in their children’s lives beginning at birth and hurting parents who may live separately for work or other reasons. 

The Act would also leave many ill children, partners and parents alone in their hospital beds, and continue to force millions into debt or missed treatment. Its narrow focus excludes more than 75 percent of those who use the Family and Medical Leave Act—people dealing with their own serious health condition, or caring for a seriously ill or injured loved one, including children.

Like the Rubio bill, the CRADLE Act draws on a concept that originated with the Independent Women’s Forum—whose goal, as Lisa Graves noted in Ms., is to fundamentally undermine the Social Security system. 

The good news? We have a solution that allows people to care for themselves and their family members and keep their Social Security intact. The FAMILY Act, introduced by Sen. Gillibrand and Rep. DeLauro earlier this year, has a sustainable funding source, covers all care needs and follows the model that has proven effective in multiple states for employees and employers alike.

Strong majorities of voters in both parties support real paid leave and strengthening Social Security. They want meaningful action, not steps in the wrong direction.

It’s time to pass what works. It’s time to pass the FAMILY Act.

About and

Ellen Bravo is strategic consultant to Family Values @ Work, a network of 27 state coalitions working for paid sick and safe days, family and medical leave insurance and other policies that value families at work.
Wendy Chun-Hoon serves the director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau. She is the former executive director of Family Values @ Work, a network of coalitions in 27 states working for policies like paid family and medical leave.