Working Americans Need – and Deserve – Paid Leave

by Joanna Ross, FM Intern.

My mother was three months pregnant with me when my then 2-year old brother was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. My parents took shifts caring for my brother, who was in the hospital every day for a month and then intermittently for five years. My mother, a consultant at the time, set aside her projects to stay with my brother during the day while my father worked. My father’s company told him to take as much time as he needed to be with my brother; he stayed at the hospital every night after work. Even so, my father lost his job within a year of my brother’s diagnosis, from a company with which he had spent 10 years. Because my father was not given official family leave, he was required to complete the same workload and simply could not manage with an ill child.

My parents consider themselves lucky that they were able to take care of my brother as they did, but not all families enjoy the same benefits as mine. For too many families in the U.S., a new child or illness means economic insecurity at just the time when they are most vulnerable. Only 12% of private sector workers in the U.S. are eligible to receive paid family leave, and less than 40% of workers have access to medical leave through employer-provided temporary disability insurance.

Today is the 22nd anniversary of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which has provided millions of U.S. workers job-protected leave to care for ill family members, newborns, or themselves. But the FMLA guarantees workers only unpaid leave. Although job-protected leave does give some employees the flexibility to care for themselves and/or their families, millions of Americans cannot afford to lose a paycheck at a time when medical bills and other expenses are threatening their financial security. In short, you shouldn’t have to choose between your paycheck and your family.

That’s why we need policies like the FAMILY Act, a bill introduced last year by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Under the FAMILY Act, workers from all U.S. companies would be eligible to receive up to 12 weeks of paid leave in order to care for themselves, a spouse or domestic partner, family member; the birth or adoption of a child; and for special military caregiving and leave purposes.

Earlier this year, the Obama Administration released a proposal to assist states in creating their own paid leave programs and to create legislation providing paid leave to federal workers as well. While this is a notable step toward economic security, it is time to call on Congress to pass legislation that would provide paid family leave to all Americans.

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