When asked this week during a debate with Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer whether paid family and medical leave should be federally mandated, Republican State Rep. Ashley Hinson said “there are a lot of creative solutions that we need to be looking at.”
Hinson’s solution? Allow employees to withdraw from their 401(k)s in order to afford time away from work.
“I don’t think we need a mandate,” Hinson said Monday night on “Iowa Press.” “Employers are stepping up to do the right thing, but I think we can have partnerships where people can borrow from their 401(k), for example, to be able to take that additional time off and have that resource available.”
This approach would leave out many Americans, as only about half of private sector employers offer retirement plans to their employees and more than 80% of workers do not have access to paid family and medical leave.
“Proposals that workers should, or even can, pull money out of a retirement account when they need to take leave isn’t just bad financial advice, it also ignores the reality of most families’ finances,” Jessica Mason, senior policy analyst at the nonpartisan National Partnership for Women & Families, told Starting Line.
“It can be easy for those of us who are in white collar jobs or working in politics to assume that everybody has a trust fund or a retirement account, or something that they just have a lot of money sitting around,” Mason said. “But that’s just not true for most families.”
In Des Moines, a Drake University employee and mother of two worked successfully with her colleagues and employer to secure 12 weeks paid maternity leave, up from the previous 10. But she hopes to see Congress take a more proactive lead on the issue.
“On one side, I used my story to try and empower other mothers to stand up and speak up for what’s right,” said Niki Smith, of Johnston. “But is it really our job to be telling our businesses the basic benefits they should be providing to their parents? As we’re finding out in the pandemic, more and more families have both parents working that need this benefit.”
Smith believes Republicans are “trying to make paid leave happen,” but their aversion to a nationwide standard, one that does not involve borrowing from retirement accounts, holds them back.
“There are three other countries in the United Nations that do not require employers to provide paid time off for new parents,” Smith said. “And if we’re supposed to be winning, if we’re supposed to be the best country in the world, how is that so? How are we not requiring that, especially if we take this from a Republican view. This is good for life. This is good for continuing the human population, at a very basic minimum, and at maximum, it’s good for the economy because there’s increased retention and overall morale in companies.”
The National Partnership for Women & Families supports the FAMILY Act, creating a nationwide paid medical and family leave fund so people can take up to 12 weeks off work to care for themselves or their families.
As part of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress took the unprecedented step to include 12 weeks of paid “parental leave” for “any federal worker who has held their job for at least a year.” President Trump signed the bill into law, with the paid parental leave provision taking effect next month.
“We’ve seen a lot of optimistic signs all across the landscape that the time is right,” Mason said. “We know how to do it. We know it’s needed. We know it’s an incredibly popular issue. Regardless of party, a majority of voters support paid family and medical leave and understand that it’s something that’s going to help them and their families.”
Hinson is not the first Iowa Republican to suggest “creative” ways workers could use their already limited funds to pay for family or medical leave.
Last year, Sen. Joni Ernst introduced legislation allowing parents to withdraw a portion of their Social Security funds in order to take time off of work. The bill permits parents to receive up to three months of paid leave by giving them the option to “postpone” Social Security benefits for two, four or six months once they enter retirement age, a proposal many see as undermining retirement savings.
Finkenauer, running to secure a second term in Iowa’s 1st District, is unequivocal in her support for paid family and medical leave.
“We are one of the last developed countries in the world that does not have paid family leave for folks who have children,” the congresswoman said. “And this is something I’ve also worked on since the Statehouse. Heck, I was just trying to get it that if you adopt a child you’re able to get leave, and ran into headway after headway after headway because folks didn’t like the fact that it would be a mandate.”
“And at the end of the day,” Finkenauer said, “you’re talking about people being able to bond and spend time with their children, and it’s the least we can do as Iowans and as Americans.”
By Elizabeth Meyer
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