We Need Paid Leave NOW – and Not Just for Maternity

This week, 9to5 and others who believe in common-sense solutions to personal medical and family care needs are celebrating the 24th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA ensures that eligible employees may use up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year to care for the birth or adoption of a new child or for their own or a family member’s serious illness, while retaining access to their health care. FMLA was a great starting point, and it’s been used more than 200 million times to benefit U. S. families.

But the time has come for more. Only 12% of private sector workers have access to paid family leave through their jobs. Less than 40% receive any pay for personal medical leave through employer-provided temporary disability insurance.

The FAMILY Act is the law we need now and this past Tuesday, Representative Rosa DeLauro and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand re-introduced this critical bill which would institute a national paid family and medical leave insurance program. The FAMILY Act would ensure that people can afford to take time away from work to care for themselves, a new child, or an ill family member — particularly impacting women, who are the primary caretakers of children and elders in the U. S.

In order to meet the needs of working families, we know a paid leave program must be:

  • accessible to all workers, with a definition of family that includes today’s diverse families,
  • covering the full range of personal medical and family caregiving needs,
  • available without retaliation or adverse employment consequences,
  • available for an adequate period of time (no less than 12 weeks per year), and
  • affordable and cost-effective for workers, employers and the government.

One common way people take FMLA is to care for a new child — but we know that just providing maternity leave to birth mothers, like the plan proposed by the new administration, is not enough! By excluding dads, adoptive parents, foster parents and same-sex couples, a law like that would actually set back equality in the workplace. There are now rumors that the new plan may be gender neutral but no word yet on specifics. Besides, new children aren’t the only reason we need paid leave! Our parents, partners and other loved ones may at times need care – not to mention our own recoveries from surgeries, heart attacks and bouts with cancer.

Shelby Ramirez Martinez from Denver, CO, explains, “I almost didn’t make it when I needed to care for my daughter recovering from serious surgery at the same time I was the caregiver for my elderly father with high medical needs. As a low-wage security officer, I was lucky to be able to take unpaid time off to care for my loved ones. But since we lived paycheck to paycheck, we were in serious trouble. After months with no income, I couldn’t pay rent, utilities and other basic bills. The stress of caring for sick family members combined with economic worry was almost too much to bear.”

We need a paid family and medical leave policy that is inclusive of all families and provides for the full scope of medical reasons why people need paid leave.

Additionally, the administration’s proposed maternity leave policy would draw on existing unemployment insurance, a program that is already severely underfunded, thus pitting groups of people who are struggling to get by against each other. Unemployment compensation, which varies by state, falls far short of what workers need to sustain themselves during leave. That means that workers in the lowest paid jobs, even if they are technically eligible for paid leave, still wouldn’t be able to afford to take it.

It’s past time for the U. S. to begin catching up with other nations. For the sake of comparison, the U. K. has 50 weeks of guaranteed parental leave, which can be split between qualifying parents, 37 weeks of which are paid. You can check out other countries’ parental leave plans here. We are way behind.

The FAMILY Act is modeled after successful state paid leave insurance programs with proven track records. Since the 1940s, five states have provided temporary disability insurance through a social insurance fund. Three of those states – California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island – have expanded their programs to include paid family leave, and other states are in the process. Families and employers report positive results.

Paid leave insurance has widespread public support. A Washington Post poll found that more than four-fifths of voters – including 94 percent of Democrats, 80 percent of Independents and 65 percent of Republicans – agree that workplace rules to ensure paid time off to care for family members “is good for our nation.”

In these contentious political times, the importance of family is something all of us can get behind. Encourage your US Representative and US Senators to support the FAMILY Act. Speak up for your family and share with lawmakers how the FAMILY Act would improve all of our lives. Because, at some point in our lifetimes, we’re all going to need time to care for loved ones or ourselves. We can’t be silent on this important issue.

Check out the original blog here

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