Let Us Care for Ourselves and Our Loved Ones
We are honored to publish this guest post by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro on the need for paid family and medical leave.
By U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)
If you have a baby, shouldn’t you be able to take time off from work to care for your newborn? Most of the world thinks so. In fact, every single country in the world ensures access to some form of paid maternity leave, except for four: Lesotho, Swaziland, Papua New Guinea, and the United States of America.
We have been lagging behind on this front for decades. Over fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, called for a system of paid maternity leave as one of its key recommendations, along with equal pay and enhanced access to child care. Over a half-century later, women are still waiting.
While the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees that workers will not lose their jobs for time taken to care for a child or ill family member, FMLA leave is unpaid leave: Employers are not required to pay employees for missed work during that time. Families are then left with difficult choices: They either have to count on only one income, or use up whatever family savings they may or may not possess. For many families, this is really no choice at all. If they are in low-wage jobs, they often have to reduce the time they take off, going back to work before they or their family member is ready, simply because they cannot afford to stay out of work.
But momentum is now growing around the country to allow workers to take care of themselves and their family members when they need to. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and I have introduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (the FAMILY Act), to provide a way for workers to be able to take the time they need, with pay, to recover from serious illness or to care for a new baby, adopted child, or family member with a serious medical condition.
Here’s how it works: The FAMILY Act would provide up to 12 weeks of partial income (66% of monthly wages) when someone takes time off to care for their own health, a family member’s serious health condition, or a newborn. This leave would be funded by very small payroll contributions (i.e., two cents per $10 in wages) made by both employees and employers. The program would be administered by a new Office of Family and Medical Leave within the Social Security Administration, and would cover all companies and all workers (including part-time employees).
Already, California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have instituted paid family leave insurance programs, and the New York legislature also is considering similar legislation. It’s past time for every family in America to have paid family and medical leave as well. The FAMILY Act provides an inexpensive and common sense means to achieve this goal.
In this economy, millions of families are struggling with unemployment, low wages, and minimal benefits. None of their lives should be made even harder, just because they want to do the right thing and care for themselves and their family members. No new mother should be forced back into the workforce before she or her baby is ready, just because she cannot afford to pay the bills during her time off.
Let’s live up to the family values that Americans care about. It is time to make the FAMILY Act the law of the land.
The American Psychological Association has signed a letter of support for the FAMILY Act. Contact your members of Congress to show your support as well! Ask them to cosponsor this critically important legislation!
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro has represented Connecticut’s third congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1990 and serves in Democratic leadership as co-chair of the Steering and Policy Committee. She is also the Ranking Member of the Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee.