This week, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) reintroduced The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. Almost every worker in the United States will need to take time off of work at some point to care for a new child, ailing family member, or themselves. However, only a marginal amount of the US workforce is able to take such family or medical leave while still receiving pay from their employer.

While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), adopted over 25 years ago, provides critical job protection for millions of workers in the U.S., only about 60 percent of the nation’s workforce is eligible for protection, and there are many more employees who cannot afford to take leave that is unpaid. Currently, only 15% of American workers have access to paid leave, and those who do not must choose between losing valuable income or providing loved ones, and themselves, the care they need.

The United States is the only OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development) country that does not provide paid maternity leave nationwide. More than half of the nations in the OECD provide paternity leave to fathers, and paid leave is given to both parents in 23 OECD countries.

The FAMILY Act would make workers in all companies, regardless of size, eligible for up to 12 weeks of partial income for family and medical leave, including pregnancy, childbirth recovery, serious health condition of a child, parent, spouse or domestic partner, birth or adoption of a child and/or military caregiving and leave. Workers could earn 66% of their monthly wages, up to a capped amount. If passed, this legislation would explicitly prohibit employers from discriminating or firing employees who have applied for or taken paid family and medical leave.

The act would also establish the Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave, a new office within the Social Security Administration designed to administer these benefits. The costs for providing this leave would be covered by small employee and employer payroll contributions of two cents per $10 in wages, which comes to around $1.50 a week for the average worker. This is a small price to pay for something that will likely benefit every worker at some point in their life.

Access to paid family leave promotes healthy child development and promotes family economic security. It gives parents a chance to adequately care for their newborns or children with special health care needs. For example, men are more involved with their child’s direct care when they are able to take off two or more weeks after the birth of their child and women are available to breastfeed their newborn. The presence of fathers, domestic partners, and other significant others would lessen the workload required of new mothers while simultaneously combating unhealthy stereotypes regarding familial roles and allowing mothers to return to the workforce faster.

The Center for American Progress estimates that working families lose around $20.6 billion in wages annually due to a lack of paid family and medical leave. The FAMILY Act would provide working parents with the economic security needed to provide for and raise healthy, happy children.

Paid family and medical leave also promotes family financial independence. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, new mothers who take paid leave are over 50% more likely to receive a future pay increase. Mothers who do not take paid leave, on the other hand, are 39% more likely to need public assistance to care for their family than those who take paid maternity leave.

There is growing momentum towards establishing universal paid family and medical leave. States such as California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York have all successfully implemented paid leave programs for their workers. 

As an organization committed to securing the economic security of America’s families and children, First Focus Campaign for Children applauds and supports the reintroduction of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act.