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Debate: Should New Parents Be Allowed to Tap Social Security?

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Two recently proposed bills would tap into Social Security retirement program benefits to fund a paid parental leave program after the birth or adoption of a child. The bills would provide current paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child in exchange for reduced Social Security benefits during retirement.

The eventual reduction in Social Security retirement benefits would be permanent for taxpayers who opt to take advantage of the paid parental leave during their working years.

We asked professors Robert Bloink and William Byrnes, authors of ALM’s Tax Facts with opposing political viewpoints, to share their opinions about using Social Security funds to create a nationwide paid parental leave program.

Below is a summary of the debate that ensued between the two professors.

Their Votes:

thumbs up Byrnes
Thumbs down Bloink

Their Reasons:

Byrnes: Parents in the United States have some of the most limited benefits in the developed world, a fact that Democrats point to on repeat. We need to find a way to give employees the resources to take time off after the birth or adoption of a child. We only have limited ways to fund these types of important benefits, and giving people the choice to access their own Social Security funds today seems like a fair solution.

Bloink: Using Social Security to fund parental leave would have a devastating impact on retirement security for future generations. These parental leave programs would require Americans to choose between current benefits for parental leave and their future financial stability, creating a retirement income crisis for future years.

We have to assume that, if given the chance, most people would choose to receive the benefits currently rather than in the future — kicking the funding problem further down the road for future generations to deal with.

Byrnes: A comprehensive nationwide paid family leave program would provide equal access to benefits and promote equality among minorities and lower-income workers. If we need to come up with a program to help all Americans today, this is one of the only options that has been floated that has a realistic chance of becoming law.

Bloink: These proposals strike me as underinclusive, as well as misleading. The programs would only open the benefits program to taxpayers who are in need of time off after the birth or adoption of a child, leaving out taxpayers who need to care for a family member or are experiencing their own health conditions. Generally, it puts taxpayers in a situation where they have no choice but to accept these benefits while undercutting their future retirement security. I think we can do better for the American people.

Byrnes: Americans have been paying into the Social Security system and should be given the choice to use those benefits as they see fit. Some see more value in accessing the funds today, when they need them the most.

In reality, we’re allowing paid leave in exchange for reduced Social Security benefits and have no idea what level of benefits these taxpayers will eventually be entitled to receive in the future, based on a lifetime of earnings. Some families could even profit if it turns out that their lifetime earnings record is lower than expected.

Bloink: Ultimately, these paid parental leave benefits would be treated as “loans” that accrue interest over time. For many, the amount of “interest” paid would exceed the paid parental leave benefit itself. While the paid leave would be a valuable current benefit, it would harm lower-income taxpayers, people of color and women much more in the long run, as many of these taxpayers have no option but to accept the current benefit and deal with their future retirement insecurity at a later date.

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