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Marco Rubio

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) listens during a Senate Select Intelligence Committee hearing on March 10, 2022. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Rubio's 'Cruel' Paid Leave Plan Forces Families to Pay Back Benefits After Parent's Premature Death

"So when mom or dad tragically dies a few years after having their third kid, the surviving spouse will have to send a big fat check to the SSA," explained policy analyst Matt Bruenig.

Julia Conley

Progressive policy analyst Matt Bruenig on Thursday pointed to a little-noticed detail in Sen. Marco Rubio's so-called "pro-family framework," which the Florida Republican released late last month to expand on the GOP's vision for the country as millions of people are forced to continue unwanted pregnancies following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

A key element of the plan is Rubio's proposal for "paid" family leave, which he developed in 2018 with former presidential adviser Ivanka Trump.

"Cassidy and Rubio are really just proposing parental leave loans."

As Common Dreams reported at the time, Rubio's plan would offer employees eight to 12 weeks off of work to take care of their families, but those weeks would be paid for by the workers themselves by dipping into their Social Security accounts.

The proposal was panned when it was released in 2018, with the Urban Institute noting it would cut retirement benefits by 3% to 10% over the course of Americans' later years.

Bruenig, founder of the progressive think tank People's Policy Project, noted an even more "cruel" provision in the plan which would affect parents who die after using the benefit and before they reach old age.

"In order for Rubio's proposal to truly be budget-neutral, he needs the Social Security Administration (SSA) to be able to recover all of the parental leave benefits it pays out," Bruenig explained. "For people who live long enough to claim Social Security, this is easy enough: The SSA recovers the leave benefits by docking their Social Security checks."

For people who die before they are able to collect Social Security benefits, however, "all of the parental benefits they received during their life are deemed overpayments and the SSA makes their estate pay them back."

"So when mom or dad tragically dies a few years after having their third kid, the surviving spouse will have to send a big fat check to the SSA," Bruenig wrote.

Ryan Cooper of The American Prospect marveled at "the level of casual malevolence you need" to concoct such a funding mechanism, while political scientist Kevin Elliott wrote that for the Republican Party, "literally anything is thinkable except raising taxes on rich people."

Patrick T. Brown of the Ethics and Public Policy Center suggested that future versions of Rubio's proposal, like one proposed by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), might amend the provision regarding premature death, but Bruenig wrote that their plan "would have the same problem assuming they actually tried to stick to the cost-neutral commitment."

"Cassidy and Rubio are really just proposing parental leave loans," said Bruenig. "It's all unworkable in various ways."

The Republicans' insistence on requiring parents to pay for their leave through their Social Security "is bizarre for a lot of reasons," Bruenig added, noting that an actual paid leave program "would cost very little and could almost certainly be funded by increasing the payroll tax by 0.1 to 0.2 percentage points."

Bruenig also took aim at Rubio's plan for the Child Tax Credit (CTC), the expansion of which helped millions of families afford groceries and other essentials last year before the monthly payments were cut due to right-wing opposition.

Under Rubio's plan, the full CTC benefit would only be offered to parents who earn more than $29,412 per year, and parents with no earnings—those who are likely to be most in need of financial support—would be eligible for no benefits.

"It is hard to understand how creating a child benefit that excludes the most desperate families is meant to be a 'pro-life benefit' aimed at helping people who, post-Dobbs, are unable to receive abortion services," wrote Bruenig. "Abortion is most prevalent among young women with very low or no earnings, including many young women who are still in education."


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