Next Tuesday, December 12, will be an important day in the fight to help direct care workers and their families and other hard-working people in the U.S. On that day, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) will introduce the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act), a national paid family and medical leave program, into Congress.
Under the bill, nearly all U.S. workers would be able to take a limited period of time off from work while receiving a portion of their wages in order to address a serious health condition of their own or of a parent, spouse, domestic partner or child. Workers would also be eligible for the leave for pregnancy, childbirth, to care for a new child and for certain types of military leave or caregiving for a military spouse.
Good for direct care workers and their families
As Rachel Lyons of the National Partnership for Women & Families explained in a Direct Care Alliance (DCA) Q&A, the bill would build on a foundation created 20 years ago by the Family and Medical Leave Act. The FMLA has allowed millions of workers to take job-protected leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child or seriously ill family member, or to recover from a serious health problem of their own, but about 40% of the U.S. workforce is not eligible for FMLA leave.
What’s more, many direct care workers and other low-income workers cannot afford to take unpaid time off, and while FMLA requires certain employers to provide leave in certain circumstances, it does not require them to pay for that leave. According to a recent study, the main reason that people who are currently eligible for FMLA leave don’t take it is that they can’t afford to go for weeks without pay. The new bill would provide workers with a way to care for themselves and their families while receiving approximately two-thirds of their pay for up to 12 weeks a year.
Good for consumers and other employers--and the U.S. economy
The FAMILY Act would give direct care workers the paid time off they need to treat or recover from an illness or injury. That benefits consumers as well, since direct care workers who go to work sick or injured risk may put their clients at risk. Furthermore, studies show that allowing workers paid leave increases employee loyalty and reduces turnover, and lower turnover improves the continuity of care that is such an important part of quality in long-term services and supports (LTSS).
Paid leave would help employers by increasing employee loyalty, promoting retention and reducing the time and cost involved in replacing a worker (typically about one-fifth of an employee’s salary). In an industry with an annual turnover rate of between 44% and 65%, employers stand to save a lot of money—not to mention headaches—from reduced turnover.
Finally, workers with paychecks in their pockets are less likely to need public assistance, saving taxpayers and the government money. (About half of all direct care workers currently live in households that rely on food stamps, Medicaid, utilities subsidies, or another form of public assistance.) And they will spend that money in their communities, helping local businesses and our economy as a whole to thrive.
Employees and employers would make payroll contributions of just 2 cents for every 10 dollars in wages to pay for the program. That would go into a separate fund, to ensure that everyone who was eligible for the leave could take it.
America is ready for the FAMILY Act
The public overwhelmingly supports a paid leave insurance program. Eighty-six percent of all voters, including the vast majority of Democrats (96%), independents (87%) and Republicans (73%), believe it’s important that Congress and the President consider a family and medical leave insurance system. Further, almost 78% of U.S. adults say that family and maternity leave is a “very important” labor standard for workers.
U.S. workers deserve to be able to take the time they need to care for themselves and their families, without having to worry about making ends meet. Direct care workers in particular, who spend their days and nights caring for other people’s friends and families, should not have to choose between caring for their own families when the need arises and paying their bills.
DCA and our allies are continuing to work hard to secure more Congressional co-sponsors for the bill. Already, hundreds of organizations representing tens of millions of working families nationwide have signed a letter urging Congress to support the bill.
How you can help
There are four quick and easy ways you can push for passage of the FAMILY Act, thereby helping direct care workers and their families, LTSS consumers and other employers and our economy.
1. Email your member of Congress and urge them to stand with America’s families and support the FAMILY Act. Click here for a preset and easy-to-send email.
2. Share your story. Did you ever need time off for a serious illness, new baby or sick family member, but couldn't take it? Was there a time that you, a family member or friend benefited from paid family or medical leave? We want to hear about it! Please call DCA’s Elise Nakhnikian at 646.823.7434 or email her to tell us about your experience!
3. Subscribe to DCA’s free email newsletter to receive timely updates and ways to get involved on this and other issues of importance to the direct care workforce.
5. Encourage your friends, family and co-workers to get involved. Share this story with them—and encourage them to share their stories with us.
Every voice matters! We appreciate your time, dedication and advocacy for direct care workers and their families. Please stay tuned for more information and advocacy opportunities.
FAQs about the FAMILY Act from the National Partnership for Women & Families