It doesn’t matter if you are in the heart of Lincoln or a small town in Cherry County, families are the building blocks of Nebraska. At the core of every community are parents, grandparents and caregivers working hard to provide for their loved ones and raise the next generation.

Policies that will lead Nebraska families to success and prosperity are a top priority for me in the U.S. Senate. As Congress moves closer to passing comprehensive tax reform, I’m optimistic about several opportunities to provide relief for middle-class families.

The workforce of today looks different from the last time Congress updated the tax code in 1986. This is partly because women’s participation in the workforce has been steadily increasing over the years. In fact, it’s almost doubled since World War II.

Because of this shift, 21st-century workers face unique challenges as they care for children and elderly relatives. The life of someone doing “double duty” as a breadwinner and a caregiver is often hectic and stressful.

For four years, I’ve been working to address this problem, and I’m pleased to report we are finally making headway.

Included in the tax reform bill recently approved by the Senate Finance Committee is my paid family leave plan, the Strong Families Act. If enacted, this proposal would be the first national paid family leave policy in U.S. history.

Workers could take an hour, a day or up to 12 weeks off to care for a sick child, check on an elderly parent or take maternity or paternity leave. Businesses offering the leave would receive a tax credit as big as 25 percent of the wages paid to those employees. There’s also a cap on the yearly pay one can make to qualify, targeting access to those who really need it. Typically, that’s lower-to-middle income and hourly employees.

At the same time, I wanted my plan to respect the growth of small businesses. Startups of Silicon Prairie and shops of Main Street are run by families, too. Owners of these businesses care about their employees, and they want to be able to offer paid leave. But, for many of them, success starts with keeping the lights on.

My approach would give businesses a practical alternative and avoid government mandates. It incentivizes businesses to make changes that will provide employees with more options when they are under the stress of family worries.

Other family-focused plans are underway as well.

Raising a child is one of life’s gifts, but it’s also a major expense. According to the Department of Agriculture, parents of a child born in 2015 are projected to spend more than $233,000 raising a child through age 17 -- and that doesn’t even include college tuition.

To ease the burden of climbing costs, the Senate tax reform proposal doubles the current child tax credit. With this change, families would be able to keep up to an additional $4,000 every year if they have two or more children. Having that extra money on hand to cover expenses makes a real difference.

Doubling the standard deduction, as Congress is aiming to do through pro-growth tax reform, would also lighten the load for families. Married couples would be able to hold on to the first $24,000 they earn, tax-free. They can use these savings to invest in their family’s future, fix things around the house, save to send their kids to college or plan for retirement.

During a listening session I held in Holdrege earlier this year, a young woman was familiar with my paid leave plan and thanked me for my work on it. She talked about the difficulties of raising kids and working full-time. She thought my approach was something that could help make her life easier.

The American people agree with her. A Pew Research study found 87 percent of participants favor my solution for paid leave. An American Action Forum analysis of that same study noted Americans are “extremely supportive” of this approach.

For the woman in Holdrege, and other families across the country, I’m going to keep pushing to move these family-friendly proposals over the finish line.

Sen. Deb Fischer is the senior U.S. senator for Nebraska.


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