Iowa's junior senator testified Wednesday before a congressional committee about the policy that would give families access to 12 weeks of paid family leave.
Iowa's Sen. Joni Ernst is one of a small group of conservatives in Congress working with the White House to institute a paid family leave program for all new parents.
Ernst appeared before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee Wednesday to testify in favor of the proposal, which would allow all workers to receive 12 weeks of paid leave in exchange for a six-week deferment of Social Security benefits.
The proposal, supported by President Donald Trump's daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, was released by the advocacy group Independent Women's Forum (IWF) in January.
Ivanka Trump, who has three young children, has been an advocate of paid family leave since her father campaigned for president and while he has occupied the White House.
"Common sense tells us that it's important for parents to spend time with their newborn. The bond that is formed when parents first lay eyes on their child only becomes stronger the longer the time they have to spend together," Ernst said during her opening comments to the committee. "As a conservative, I want to craft paid leave policy that can not only attract consensus, but is viable for families' employers and the economy, recognizing that working parents, by definition, are an essential part of many businesses."
During her testimony, Ernst referenced a recent study that linked the amount of time parents spend with their newborns, which could be helped by access to paid family leave, to increased rates of breastfeeding and better health outcomes for infants.
"As a nation, we know that we can do better for our families," the senator said.
While most U.S. employers now offer some length of paid time-off for new mothers, few companies extend the same opportunity to fathers.
In 2016, only 14 percent of workers had access to paid family leave, according to a survey conducted by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have established paid family leave laws, with policies in New York and Washington, D.C., going into effect over the next two years.
Trump, who attended the Senate hearing but did not testify, posted an opinion piece on Fox News' website Wednesday in support of the proposal.
"If executed responsibly, paid family leave is targeted government action with the right incentives — designed to increase the independence, health and dignity of our citizens," Trump, 36, wrote.
The IWF proposal emphasized parental participation in the program would be voluntary.
"New parents who do not need parental benefits or who do not wish to defer their retirement benefits would not be required to participate," the policy, "A Budget-Neutral Approach to Parental Leave," stated.
GOP Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah also have been working with Ernst in Congress to introduce paid family leave legislation in line with the IWF blueprint.
Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York testified alongside Ernst in support of her paid leave proposal, the FAMILY Act.
Gillibrand's proposal, which does not touch Social Security funds, would give workers the option to receive at least two-thirds pay for up to 12 weeks of paid family leave.
She first introduced the bill in February 2017, with 32 Democratic co-sponsors.