Update ? Clinton Plan Would Pay Parents to Stay Home with Kids

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNSNews.com) - President Clinton, concerned that many Americans can't afford time off without pay to care for a new baby, Tuesday offered a remedy -- more federal rules - to address what he considers a big problem. "We have no higher value than family," Clinton said in announcing a plan that will allow more Americans to take advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The new rules would allow the states to use money from their unemployment insurance funds to offer paid leave to people after the birth or adoption of a child. Unemployment insurance systems are funded by a combination of federal and state payroll taxes, and they are administered by the states - with federal oversight.

Under Clinton's plan, the states would decide how much parental leave to offer and how much to pay people for staying home to take care of their children. In fact, the states would have the final say in whether or not to take advantage of the new federal rules.

With three families standing behind him in the Oval Office, the president said he believes his plan "will strengthen parents' bonds with both their children and their jobs ... On the eve of this new century, we ought to set a goal that all parents can take the time they need for their families without losing the income they need to support them."

The Family and Medical Leave Act - a federal law - gives workers the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to take care of a new baby or a sick relative without the risk of losing their jobs. Since the Family and Medical Leave Act was passed in 1993, an estimated 24 million people have used some or all of their 12 weeks to care for a new baby or other family member.

However, a 1996 study found that many people can't afford to take the time off without pay, and the rules the president announced today are intended to remove that obstacle.

The White House came up with the new rules earlier this year, after four states - Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Washington - asked the federal government for permission to use their unemployment insurance funds for paid leave.

"It enables states to provide an even greater benefit than exists under the current law and it will ultimately allow many more families to take advantage of family and medical leave by providing paid leave," said one White House official quoted by wire services. That may not sit well with some businesses, especially small businesses, that must keep jobs open until employees return from three months' leave.

Clinton announced the new rules Tuesday morning, before beginning a three-day visit to the West Coast, where he'll do some fund-raising and attend the World Trade Organization trade talks in Seattle.

Wire services report the new rules are expected to take effect early next year, after a public comment period.

On the other side of the paid-leave fence are people who say the government has no business using taxpayer dollars to pay people to stay home to take care of their children. Many businesses, especially small businesses, say the Family and Medical Leave Act is burdensome because it can leave a company short-staffed.

But supporters point to the Family and Medical Leave Act as family-friendly legislation that helps stressed-out working families keep their priorities straight (putting children first, etc.). However, some observers point out that a tax cut might be even more family-friendly, by making it affordable for one parent to stay home full-time.