- Associated Press - Monday, October 31, 2016

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) - Both candidates for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire say they support expanding family and medical leave for workers, though Republican Kelly Ayotte wants to leave it up to states while Democrat Maggie Hassan wants a federal law guaranteeing it.

The two spoke separately Monday at a forum organized by the Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy, where they were asked about family leave, affordable child care and other issues affecting working parents. They heard from a Rumney woman who described her struggle to support three children by working five part-time jobs and who showed the candidates a note from her daughter thanking her for always being there.

“I’ve had to choose between feeding her and being home with her. I don’t think that’s a choice any family in New Hampshire should have to make, or any family in the United States or the world,” said Judy Tautenhaum.

Both Ayotte, the incumbent, and Hassan, the current governor, drew on their own experiences as working mothers to explain their support for making workplaces more family friendly. Both have a son and daughter, and both worked as attorneys before entering politics. Hassan’s husband is a former prep school principal; Ayotte’s husband owns a landscaping businesses.

Hassan said no family should pay more than 10 percent of their income for child care. She said she would make it more affordable by expanding tax credits for parents, closing tax loopholes that benefit the oil industry and companies that outsource jobs, and streamlining existing child care subsidy programs.

All workers should be able to take paid time off to care for a sick relative or new child or to tend to one’s own illness, said Hassan, whose son has severe physical disabilities.

“I have at various times sat in a hospital room next to my son. … I’ve helped a father and two in-laws through their deaths,” she said. “It’s really important for us to do this, and you absolutely have my commitment to work toward that goal.”

Hassan declined to endorse a proposal to have workers’ pay $1.50 per week into a paid leave insurance program, however, and said she would look at all funding options.

Ayotte doesn’t support that idea, either, saying she’d rather see the federal government provide incentives to states to design their own guaranteed family leave programs. She also said smaller businesses would have to be involved in any discussion about it.

“We can’t put together a program that would put us in a weaker position in terms of employment and jobs,” said Ayotte, who also has backed tax credits for businesses that offer more family leave.

On the child care question, Ayotte said she’d look at whether 10 percent was a reasonable target for a family to spend, but she didn’t commit to it as a goal. She supports expanding eligibility for child development block grants, as well as increasing the amount families can deposit in flexible spending accounts for child care costs.

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