Note: This blog is also set to appear with permission on MomsRising
As a California working mother, I join parents and caregivers across the country in applauding the introduction of the FAMILY Act today. As part of an advocacy community that helped pass California’s Paid Family Leave law, I know this is a turning point for low-income workers and their families in this country. Taking time off to bond with a new baby or care for a loved one should not be the privilege of the few. Children and families thrive when a parent and caregivers can be there for them and this benefits everyone.
The FAMILY Act, introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in the Senate and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in the House of Representatives, would create a paid family leave fund like California’s at the federal level. The bill would provide workers up to 12 weeks of paid leave for their own serious illness; to care for a child, parent or spouse with a serious illness; or to bond with a new child. Workers and employers would each contribute a very small portion of their wages into this insurance program; the self-sustaining fund would mean workers could receive up to 66 percent of their wages while on leave.
The FAMILY Act comes at a critical time for low income working families. As President Obama noted recently, income inequality is the “defining issue of our time.” Supports like paid leave mitigate economic insecurity at key moments, like when a new child is born or when a family member needs care. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) - the federal law designed to help working people meet the dual demands of job and family - is unpaid and leaves 40 percent of the workforce out. And only 11 percent of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave through their employers.
Paid Family Leave was crucial to my own family’s economic security. When I found out I was pregnant with twins in 2005, one of my first thoughts was that we were not a family that could afford twins. I worked for a small non-profit and my husband was a teacher at the time. Twins require two of everything (although we did get away with one crib for a while). It was a high-risk pregnancy which increased the need to take time off to ensure the twins’ health and well-being. Having access to paid leave benefitted my whole family by giving me peace of mind while bonding with the twins and allowing me to stay out of work longer to establish breastfeeding.
In California, Paid Family Leave has helped hundreds of thousands of families. We have seen increased rates of breastfeeding and more fathers taking leave to bond with newborns. Along the way, we learned how to make the program work for more families. For example, just this year Governor Brown signed SB 770, expanding paid leave to siblings, parents in-law, and grandparents.
But we still have challenges. Workers who pay into Paid Family Leave in California are not all covered by the FMLA and, therefore, not necessarily protected from retaliation by their employers. I know people who were fired or had their jobs threatened when they left work to be at the hospital with an asthmatic child, requested leave to bond with foster children whose parents just died, or to be at the bedside of a dying father.
All working parents and caregivers deserve the peace of mind that comes with knowing they can be there for their families without risking their jobs. California led the way with Paid Family Leave. We welcome and will work to pass the FAMILY Act which will extend paid family leave to workers across the country.