Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate on Wednesday reintroduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which would create a national insurance program guaranteeing paid family and medical leave for all workers.
The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), wouldn’t add to the federal budget. It would create a new independent trust funded by tiny paycheck contributions of 0.2 percent each from both workers and employers.
The United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t guarantee paid time off to care for a new child, a sick relative, or oneself during a serious illness.
The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provided up to 12 weeks of time off to care for a new child or a family member—but that time is unpaid, and it’s only guaranteed for companies with at least 50 employees.
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The status quo is that women and their families have to cobble together time off to have a baby, and everything depends on the generosity of individual employers. Women frequently get fired or demoted due to pregnancy or childbirth, and many simply can’t afford to take unpaid time off.
“When a young parent needs time to care for a newborn child, it should never come down to an outdated policy that lets her boss decide how long it will take—and decide the fate of her career and her future along with it,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “When any one of us, man or woman, needs time to care for a dying parent, we should not have to sacrifice our job and risk our future to do the right thing for our family.”
The FAMILY Act would guarantee workers who take paid leave two-thirds of their typical wages during their time off. Crucially, it would also give benefits to the many Americans who want to work full-time but can’t, who work at small businesses, or who are self-employed or even unemployed, as long as they have sufficient work and earnings history.
It benefits all workers but would give a particular boost to women, low-income people, and people of color, who disproportionately lack workplace benefits like paid leave.
The program is modeled off of successful state-level efforts in California and New Jersey. A staggering 91 percent of businesses in California said the policy change had a positive effect or no noticeable effect on business profitability and performance, while 99 percent said it boosted or didn’t change employees’ morale.
Some business leaders have endorsed the measure, citing the benefits of worker retention.
“When we increased paid maternity leave at Google from 12 to 18 weeks, we discovered it wasn’t just good for mothers, it was good for business, doubling our retention rate amongst mothers,” Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, said in a statement. “I’ve personally benefited from Google’s policy, but all working families, regardless of their employer or state of residence, deserve the benefits of paid family leave.”
While President Obama has been a vocal advocate for women’s economic security in recent months, he has not publicly endorsed the FAMILY Act, focusing instead on leave for federal employees and encouraging states to create their own leave programs.