Ernst: My parental leave plan is a creative solution that won’t harm Social Security

Joni Ernst

I was disappointed to read a recent guest column in another newspaper that falsely stated my paid parental leave proposal would raid Social Security. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s why.

First, under my proposal, no one is required to participate. It is entirely optional and not mandatory. Retired? No children? Done having children? Your retiree benefits remain the same and you can retire right on time.

Second, those who choose to participate by taking paid parental leave are asked to work two, four or six months longer depending on how much leave is taken (up to 12 weeks). There would be no reduction in monthly benefits received once retired, for anyone.

Third, we specifically drafted our proposal with the caveat that there would be a pay-for on the front end to ensure that there is no fiscal impact to Social Security.

I, like many readers, have seen numerous opinions about the plight of working parents, the need for equal rights and pay for women, and other very important issues that surround family and workplace dynamics in America. It’s confusing to me how folks could be critical of elected officials who are trying to find innovative solutions to today’s problems rather than tossing controversial issues around like a political football when it works in their favor.

It is impossible to go to every county across Iowa like I do without hearing stories from moms and dads about the challenges they face when it comes to child care access and struggles related to our simultaneously modern and rural workforce. At 2.4 percent unemployment, a lot of Iowans are working and that’s a good thing. But it also exacerbates these issues.

Republicans have sometimes shied away from tackling these problems head on. I’m trying to change that. Meanwhile, Democrats have been happy to unveil so-called solutions that increase the growing deficit and simply take more money out of every Iowan’s paycheck.

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and I proposed a creative and sensible option, one that offers families a choice and not a mandate, maintains economic competitiveness, and gives small business owners a way to give their valued employees access to a paid leave benefit.

As someone who has centered my work in Washington on a message of fiscal responsibility, I’m well-versed in the fiscal realities of Social Security. We must wrestle with the future of the program, the growing deficit, and D.C.’s out-of-control spending. But it’s simply untrue to say that our proposal exacerbates these problems. Paid parental leave is a debate worth having, but let’s have it honestly and not in a predictably partisan manner.

The only victims in a debate without ideas are Iowa families.

Joni Ernst is a United States senator from Iowa.