Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced new legislation Thursday to create a national insurance program guaranteeing all workers receive paid family and medical leave.
The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act would go considerably further to help families than its two-decade-old predecessor, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which only guarantees unpaid leave and doesn’t cover 40 percent of the workforce. The FAMILY Act would provide all workers—regardless of company size and including part-time, lower-wage, and self-employed workers—two-thirds of their income for up to 12 weeks in the event of serious illness, after childbirth, or to care for a seriously ill relative.
The program would be self-funded by employee and employer contributions of 0.2 percent of wages each, as much as a cup of coffee per week for the average worker. A similar program in California has improved worker retention in its decade of implementation, which boosts the bottom line of employers.
While both women and men would benefit from the insurance, paid time off to care for a new baby would improve job and economic security for women in particular. The United States is one of only seven countries, out of 188 for which data is available, that do not guarantee paid maternity leave.
“The women of the workforce need to be able to reach their full economic potential if you ever expect America to reach her economic potential,” Gillibrand said at a press conference introducing the legislation.
Advocates noted that paid leave improves health outcomes for newborns, and that the entire economy benefits when new parents or caregivers can keep their paychecks or their jobs.
Rep. DeLauro spoke of her experience with fighting ovarian cancer, and how important it was for her to have paid time off from her job as chief of staff to Sen. Chris Dodd. “All workers should have this opportunity when they need it,” she said.
Tom Nides, vice chairman of Morgan Stanley, said that the bill is “not only good for families and businesses, it also makes economic sense.” Nides, a long-time friend of DeLauro’s, also joked that opposing her on an issue is “a bad place to be.”
Other speakers praised Gillibrand and DeLauro for their unwillingness to give up. That tenacity will be needed in the face of an obstructionist Republican-led House. DeLauro acknowledged the possible uphill climb, but said, “Who would we be if we didn’t try?” and pointed out that the bill started off in the House with 38 Democratic co-sponsors.
The FAMILY Act is backed by groups such as the Center for American Progress, which proposed a similar measure in 2009, and the National Partnership for Women and Families, which wrote and helped pass the FMLA.
“There’s a lot of talk about ‘family values’ in Washington … there’s nothing we could do to live family values more than passing a paid leave bill,” said Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden.