Paid Family Leave, Medicare Vouchers in Jeopardy as Democrats Negotiate With Manchin

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Paid family leave is in danger of being scrapped or scaled-down, alongside Medicare vouchers, if the Democrats cannot convince Sen. Joe Manchin to vote on the proposal under Pres. Joe Biden's Build Back Better plan.

Sources told NBC News that while the Democrats could negotiate for a four-week paid family leave, down from Biden's original 12-week proposal, Manchin is still against the benefit's inclusion in the social safety net plan because he has concerns about the massive budget.

Amid talks that Manchin could remove the paid family leave altogether, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand told reporters that they are still discussing with the senator to ensure that the program remains on the bill.

"I think he fully understands this is essential to working parents, and working families all across America," Gillibrand said, adding that as far as where things stand, four weeks is the most likely option.

Read AlsoMeghan Markle Asks Congress to Pass Biden's Paid Family Leave Program

Four Weeks Still Transformational

The paid family leave program to benefit all employees in the U.S. who have rendered more than six months of work, whether in a private or government firm, will not just include caring for newborns or sick and elderly parents. It will also allow income earners to take four weeks off if they have to look after family members who are close to them by blood or affinity.

If approved, the benefit will take effect in 2023 and will be based on scaled wages depending on how much the worker earns. Per CNN, those in the lowest-income bracket could get 85 percent of their monthly payments if they avail of paid family leave, while the highest-paid worker might get five percent.

Proponents of the bill said that job retention and economic recovery strategy would benefit the whole country post-pandemic. The U.S. has been lagging in offering a universal paid family leave program among other developed and wealthy nations globally. In many progressive countries, their programs cover a blanket benefit by as much as 29 weeks.

However, Kathleen Romig of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities told CNBC that four weeks of paid family leave is still "transformational," especially for low-income earners who currently have no such access to any paid leaves at all. Those in the working class also do not have enough savings to afford a time off and take care of family members without worrying about their wages.

The expert believes that the four-week proposal could be expanded. The most important thing is to "lay the foundation" and create a good base that would allow the program's expansion and permanent adoption.

Medicare Vouchers Cut

Meanwhile, Manchin is also not keen on supporting the inclusion of medical vouchers for annual dental costs. Biden's proposal calls for expanding Medicare coverage to include medical bills for dental, vision, and hearing treatments. However, following discussions with the Democrats, if Manchin doesn't object, an $800 dental voucher will most likely be adopted.

However, in a report on The Hill, Biden said he understands Manchin's hesitation because Medicare could be burdened and lose its ability to support the beneficiaries. However, the President is optimistic that the Democrats will reach a good compromise and secure funding for his Build Back Better plan.

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