WASHINGTON – Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday backed President Donald Trump's recently unveiled paid family leave proposal, saying he'd like Minnesota to lead the nation in implementing a plan that many in the president's own party have been reluctant to embrace.
Trump's federal budget proposal, released last month, would require states to set up their own programs through unemployment insurance for new parents to receive six weeks of paid leave. Dayton, who has been previously unsuccessful in getting Minnesota Republicans to sign on to his own paid leave proposal, called Trump's proposal "hugely significant."
"I would take that as a challenge and an opportunity to devise something that would be a model for Minnesota but also for the rest of the nation," Dayton told the Star Tribune.
In recent years, Minnesota DFLers have pushed for paid family and medical leave for all Minnesota workers.
But at the state level, Republicans have not been amenable to those efforts. Dayton did recently extend six weeks of paid leave to state workers, and despite his veto of the bill that included the benefit, his administration is continuing to extend it to state workers, and Republican leaders have not threatened to challenge it.
Trump broke with many in his party in embracing a paid family leave benefit. It's become a signature issue for his daughter Ivanka Trump, who was involved in crafting the proposal in Trump's budget. His proposal is similar to a plan put forward by a group of DFL legislators in 2016, which also would have used an unemployment insurance model to cover the cost of the benefit.
Democrats nationally, including in Minnesota's congressional delegation, have been slower to embrace Trump's proposal despite their own advocacy on the issue. U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison in a statement called Trump's proposal "modest" and said it's "hard to take … seriously when his budget proposal guts Medicaid, funding for child care to military families by $100 million, and eliminates all funding for college campus child care for low-income student parents."
Sen. Amy Klobuchar said through a spokeswoman that a bill she co-sponsored, for up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, would be her preferred approach.
Minnesota's three Republican members of Congress either declined to comment on the leave plan or did not respond to inquiries. At the Minnesota Capitol, Republicans and groups like the Chamber of Commerce have opposed the DFL's paid family leave legislation as a one-size-fits-all mandate for employers.
Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, was critical of Dayton's earlier proposals; she sponsored legislation that would give tax credits to businesses that offer the benefit and to new parents who don't receive paid leave through their employer. But Republicans did not pursue that measure in the recently concluded legislative session. Neither Anderson nor Republican legislative leaders responded to requests for comment on Trump's proposal.
California, Rhode Island and New Jersey provide paid family leave, but many working parents in the rest of the country must rely only on the federal government's Family and Medical Leave Act that allows them to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
This week, the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute and left-leaning Brookings Institution endorsed a federal policy of eight weeks of paid parental leave.
Aparna Mathur, a resident scholar at AEI who helped write the report, strongly opposes passing the issue on to states; she believes it would require tax increases on employers. But her team met with Trump recently and believe he'll be flexible.
"It does seem that they are not stuck to that idea. … I do think it's much more likely that they will go with a federal policy," Mathur said. The report by AEI and Brookings advocates for the program to be funded using a combination of a small employee payroll contribution and finding savings in the federal budget.
Last year, Debra Fitzpatrick, director of the University of Minnesota's Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy, prepared a report in favor of a paid family leave system. She believes whatever comes from Washington on the issue is likely to give states latitude, and she wants to ensure Minnesota does it right. Minnesota unemployment insurance, she said, replaces just half of participants' wages on average, which she said would not be adequate for low-income workers.
In addition, Fitzpatrick is worried the program, if not designed right, could discourage businesses from hiring and promoting women.
Dayton said he hopes Trump's proposal puts pressure on Minnesota's GOP lawmakers, and he disagreed with fellow DFLers who say it's inadequate. "Well, something is better than nothing," Dayton said. "An ideal proposal, it's not. But I say it's still a step forward."