An attempt by the Clinton administration to establish government-paid leaves of absence for new parents is about to die a quiet death, rejected in every state legislature that took up the cause at the urging of the White House.
Lawmakers in 15 states introduced legislation to use unemployment insurance trust funds -- fattened by years of prosperity -- to pay benefits for as much as 12 weeks of leave for working parents of newborns or adopted children. Clinton called on states last year to create the major new benefit, which the Republican-controlled Congress firmly opposed.
The measures were introduced amid promises of reshaping the country's work and family policy to meet the needs of what is now a majority of families with two working parents. But, one by one, the proposals died, stymied by business opposition and fears that unemployment insurance would run dry in a future recession.
The last surviving bill, in Massachusetts, was buried in a study committee Monday. Advocates there and in other states vow to try again next year, possibly creating a disability fund to pay for parental leave.
The fate of the efforts reflects deep political resistance to using the fruits of economic prosperity to create new, ongoing government obligations -- a vision advanced by Clinton and the presidential campaign of Vice President Gore.
"It's a paradox," said Joan Lombardi, former associate commissioner of Health and Human Services and a family policy specialist. "Having mothers home with children is a value in our country. But there's a premise that somehow families can pay for this alone. And many can't."
Opponents said unemployment insurance never was intended to pay for family leave. "This was a backdoor attempt to coerce employers to fund something that has nothing to do with unemployment," said Ed Roberts, vice president of the Indiana Manufacturers' Association, which helped stop that state's bill in the Senate after it passed the House. "If there's some great, unmet need, let the federal government tax the general population and fund it."
Five states offer several weeks of disability pay for new mothers but the United States otherwise is one of few industrialized nations without paid parental leave. In Germany, for example, women who leave the work force to have children receive full paychecks for 14 weeks, and are paid some compensation until a child is 2 years old.
With a record 64 percent of mothers of preschoolers now employed, polls have shown growing public support in the past decade for more government help for working families. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave, but Clinton said many parents cannot afford to take them.
Vermont and Indiana were the only states where the measure passed even one chamber.
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