Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview Thursday that she and other senators, along with White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump, remain “very serious” about passing legislation for paid family leave and that this will help young families.

Sen. Ernst hosted a meeting Thursday morning with White House adviser Ivanka Trump, Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Susan Collins (R-ME), Deb Fischer (R-NE), and Martha McSally (R-AZ) to discuss paid family leave. Ernst, who has led one of the more prominent bills with Sen. Mike Lee (R-IA), the Cradle Act, said that the meeting shows that they are making progress on a rising issue for Republicans.

Ernst’s comments arise as Senate Finance Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) tapped Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) to co-chair a bipartisan working group on paid family leave.

“It was really, very good. It was so nice to sit down and inform and discuss how we move this forward. Sen. Grassley will be putting forward a bipartisan study group in the Finance Committee, and we feel that is very helpful,” the Iowa senator told Breitbart News.

“I’m glad Congress and the Trump Administration are working hard to address the needs of modern families,” said Ernst in a statement Thursday. “I so often hear from Iowa parents who struggle to balance family and work; and, I hear from our small business owners who just simply can’t afford to provide this option.”

Ivanka Trump said in a statement Thursday:

Today we had a productive working session on Paid Family Leave with an action-oriented group of conservative female Senators. Momentum continues to build with bipartisan efforts advancing to pass Paid Family Leave legislation. This is something we must achieve to support America’s hard-working families.

Sen. Ernst and Lee’s Cradle Act, along with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) Family Act, which would require a new payroll tax to pay for her paid family leave program, serve as two of the more prominent paid family leave bills. Sen. Ernst said in an interview with Breitbart News in April that the Republican Party can and should be the party of families.

In contrast to Gillibrand’s Family Act, Ernst and Lee’s Cradle Act would allow Americans to use their Social Security benefits to access family leave benefits without any additional cost to the taxpayer. The Social Security Administration (SSA) examined the financial impact of the legislation and found that the bill would have a “negligible effect” on the long-range health of Social Security.

Sen. Blackburn said in a press release Thursday, “As a working mom and grandmother, I know how important paid family leave is to families in Tennessee. It was a pleasure to discuss this issue with Senator Ernst, Ivanka Trump and my Senate colleagues today. I look forward to working together to improve the lives of families across our country.”

Sen. Ernst, the vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, emphasized that a bipartisan paid family leave bill should not involve any more increase in taxation or spending hikes.

“Very, very important,” Ernst said when asked about the importance of not raising taxes or increasing spending through a paid family leave bill. “So we’ve tried to lessen the burden of taxes on our families and individuals back home, and we don’t want to pile more on them.”

The Iowa senator said during her conversations with other senators that she will emphasize how much young families need this legislation.

Ernst said, “We have so many young men and women that would love to start a family but just have to put off [having a family because of the cost].” Sen. Ernst also said that many young Americans’ student debt makes it hard for citizens to have families.”

“There’s a lot that young couples are going through, and if we can ease that burden, I think that would be very helpful,” the senator added.

Paid family leave has served as a growing issue for Republicans. President Donald Trump announced during his State of the Union address that he will work to implement a paid family leave plan. White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump continues to work with Republicans across the spectrum on the issue.

“Working parents shouldn’t have to make a choice between maintaining their career or starting a family,” said Sen. McSally in a statement Thursday, adding:

American families need flexibility when it comes to doing both. I appreciate Ivanka Trump’s efforts on easing the burden on families with both moms and dads in the workforce. I look forward to continue working with the White House and my colleagues in the Senate on both sides of the aisle to enact practical, family-oriented policies.

Ernst said in a previous interview with Breitbart News that paid family leave would reduce American dependence on other public assistance programs such as food stamps.

A Rutgers University study in 2012 confirmed this contention, which found that women who take paid leave remain 39 percent less likely to receive public assistance and 40 percent less likely to receive food stamps in the year following their child’s birth when compared to those who do not take any leave.

Ernst said, “You have to work so many quarters previously to be able to participate in the program or opt into the program. You’re encouraging people to stay in the workforce and not go on government assistance or other types of entitlement programs.”

Sean Moran is a congressional reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @SeanMoran3.

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