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Debra Ness's picture

Stephanie was the sole breadwinner for her family when her twins were born three months early and had to be hospitalized. The Wisconsin mother did not have access to paid family leave through her employer, and she couldn’t afford to lose any income by taking unpaid leave. So she went back to work right away, commuting two hours each weekday for two months so she could spend nights at the hospital.

When her mother was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer, Theresa from New York had accrued some paid leave, which she used to travel to South Carolina to support her mother and take her to doctor’s appointments. But when the paid time ran out, Theresa had to rely on unpaid leave and her employer’s goodwill in order to stay with her mother during her final days. Theresa was very grateful, but the unpaid time off took a financial toll on her family at an emotional and stressful time.

Stephanie and Theresa are not alone. Across the country, women and men are forced to choose between their families’ health and the jobs they need every day. Just 12 percent of workers have paid family leave through their employers, and no federal law guarantees access to paid leave of any kind. As a result, only 50 percent of new mothers take some form of paid leave after their child’s birth, in most cases cobbling together vacation days, sick days, etc. – and countless frail seniors go without family members when they need them most.

But legislation just introduced in Congress would help to change that. It’s called the Family And Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act), and it would establish a national paid family and medical leave insurance program that would give millions of families much-needed income when they need it.

California and New Jersey already have paid leave insurance programs that are similar to the new federal proposal, and both programs are working well; Rhode Island has a paid leave insurance program that will go into effect in January. The data clearly show that paid leave benefits workers, their families, businesses and the economy.

The impact of paid leave on new mothers is especially significant. New mothers who take paid leave are more likely to return to, and stay at, their jobs and experience wage increases. They are less likely to need food stamps or public assistance. New mothers who are able to take paid leave are more likely to take the six to eight weeks of leave recommended by doctors. And newborns of mothers with access to paid leave are more likely to be breastfed, receive medical check-ups and get critical immunizations.

Paid leave also makes it possible for adult children to care for their mothers and other relatives when they become ill. There are at least 43.5 million caregivers of adults over 50 in the United States today, and most of them have paying jobs in addition to their caregiving responsibilities. These caregivers need access to paid family leave so they can care for their seriously ill parents or spouses without jeopardizing their financial stability.

Take, for example, Lisa from Washington. When her mother developed a serious liver condition while acting as primary caregiver both for her father and a brother with Down Syndrome, Lisa was able to take over the care of her family for three-and-a-half weeks because she had paid leave. Her ability to take that time supported her mother’s recovery and the well-being of her father and younger brother.

The data, combined with stories from people across the country, demonstrate the enormous positive impact that the FAMILY Act would have on the health and well-being of families and our country. That is why the National Partnership is proud to help lead a broad-based coalition of groups, including MomsRising, urging Congress to honor America’s working families by passing the bill.

If the FAMILY Act were law, more mothers like Lisa’s and Theresa’s could get the critical family care they need without worrying about their children’s financial security. Audrey from California might not have had to burn through her family’s savings or turn to public assistance to survive when her husband was hit by a car just days after their first child was born. And Amber from Georgia would have had the financial security she needed to take more than just six days off of work when her son was born.

We need lawmakers to act quickly so no more families have to experience the kinds of challenges and impossible choices faced by Stephanie, Theresa, Audrey and Amber. No one should have to choose between a family member’s health and family economic security when health and caregiving needs arise. Tell your members of Congress to prioritize the FAMILY Act today.

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