NEW YORK — Ask most working parents what makes family life hard, and you get two responses: Not having paid leave from work and figuring out how to pay for child care.
Paid family leave and affordable child care have become hot topics as advocates have pushed for more supportive state and federal laws, and private-sector employers have bolstered their family-friendly benefits to attract Millennial talent.
Hillary Clinton has taken note. And as of this week, so has Donald Trump.
Each has proposed what they’d like to do to help parents with child care issues.
What Clinton would do
Clinton has made several proposals. Her three main ones are:
Capping the cost of child care: Under her plan, families would not pay more than 10% of their income in child care costs.
In addition, she has pledged to increase access to on-campus child care for parents who are going to college. The Clinton campaign estimates that will benefit 250,000 children.
She’d provide these benefits through government subsidies and various forms of tax relief that she has yet to detail.
Guaranteeing paid family leave: Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, a majority of U.S. workers have the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a new child or to attend to a family member’s serious medical needs or their own.
But only a small percentage of employers pay workers during their leave.
As a result, roughly 25% of new mothers and far more new fathers can’t afford to take off more than two weeks when they have a baby.
Clinton wants to guarantee that 12 weeks be paid with at least two-thirds of a worker’s current wages up to a cap.
She would fund that pledge by imposing higher taxes on the rich.
Right now, only 60% of workers are eligible for FMLA unpaid leave because the law doesn’t cover businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Clinton’s campaign has not yet specified what size employers, if any, she would exempt from her guaranteed paid family leave plan.
Universal Pre-K: In many places, until a child enters kindergarten at age 5, working parents must pay for daycare, a babysitter or tuition for preschool, which research shows can help children educationally and developmentally.
But preschool can be cost prohibitive for lower-income families.
Clinton wants to provide high-quality pre-K education for all 4-year-olds in the country. The plan would be rolled out over 10 years.
States would receive new federal funding to expand access to such programs. And Clinton proposes to pay for it by increasing taxes on high-income households.
What Trump would do
Donald Trump on Monday said he’d offer a tax break to parents who pay for child care.
The average cost of full-time child care nationally is over $17,000 for an infant and over $12,000 for a 4-year-old, according to ChildCareAware of America. Costs vary widely by state.
“My plan will … help reduce the cost of child care by allowing parents to fully deduct the average cost of child care spending from their taxes,” Trump said in a speech in Detroit.
There has been confusion among tax and child care experts as to how the break would work.
The Trump campaign told CNNMoney on Tuesday that it is still finalizing the details but confirmed the following:
–Parents would be allowed to take an “above-the-line deduction” on their federal income tax returns. An above-the-line deduction may be taken by anyone who qualifies, regardless of income and whether they choose to take the standard deduction or itemize. –They could claim up to the average cost of child care in their state for their child’s age. –Low-income filers would be able to take the deduction against their payroll tax instead.
What the experts say
Child care advocates are very happy child care issues are getting attention in the campaign.
“We’re delighted that people are recognizing the enormous burden for the majority of families … And insuring the well-being of children in their early years is a public interest and deserves public investment,” said Ellen Bravo, executive director of FamilyValues@Work.
Ideally, they’d prefer that universal pre-K extend to 3-year-olds as well as 4-year-olds, that childcare workers be paid a living wage, and that all workers be guaranteed paid leave.
Tax experts, meanwhile, note that the tax code isn’t the best way to alleviate child care costs for low-income parents.
They have to pay them throughout the year, so waiting until tax time for relief may be “too late to be much help for needy families,” said Elaine Maag, a senior research associate at the Tax Policy Center.
What’s more, low-income filers don’t benefit very much from income tax deductions, because the value is tied to a filer’s top tax rate. The less you make, the lower your rate and the less valuable the deduction.
Their biggest tax hit is taxes for Social Security and Medicare. But what a low-income filer pays in payroll taxes is much lower than what they owe in child care costs, Maag said, so a deduction might not be worth that much.