The U.S. is inching closer to a paid family leave policy this year, catching up to essentially every other country in the world.
On Tuesday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) plan to reintroduce the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, a bill that would guarantee 12 weeks of partially paid leave for new parents and for workers who need to care for sick family members or are experiencing serious health issues.
“There is very serious momentum,” DeLauro told HuffPost, explaining why this year is different. “We’ve got a new Congress, we’ve got the largest majority of women and young people.” Finally, family leave is at the “center of the debate, rather than the fringes,” she added.
DeLauro and Gillibrand first introduced the bill in 2013. But this year they have a Democratic majority in the House, where it’s expected to pass.
Meanwhile, paid leave is gaining traction with conservatives who have long opposed such efforts. President Donald Trump, pressured by his daughter Ivanka, actually proposed a paid maternity leave policy, though most advocates say it falls short in a couple of key respects.
Despite the growing support for paid leave, the bill would face an extreme uphill climb in the U.S. Senate.
A record 29 percent of candidates running in 2018 put paid leave policies on their platforms, up from just 4 percent in 2014, said Vicki Shabo, vice president for workplace policies at the National Partnership for Women & Families.
”It’s time,” Shabo said. “We’re the only country that doesn’t provide paid leave for new moms. And one of a handful that don’t provide paid time off at all for anyone.”
The Family Act, as the legislation is known, would allow all workers in the U.S. to earn 66 percent of their monthly wages, up to a certain maximum, funded by a small payroll tax of two-tenths of 1 percent paid for by employers and employees. And advocates say they might tweak the bill further so that lower-income workers are able to earn a higher percentage of their pay.
The bill is modeled on similar legislation that’s proved successful in a handful of states. California has been offering paid leave for more than a decade, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York also have plans in effect.
Contrary to initial dire warnings from conservatives, paid leave has had little to no effect on businesses in these states. In California, the vast majority of business owners said they weren’t affected negatively by the bills, according to one widely cited survey. Indeed, for the few companies that already offer paid leave, the legislation would offset some of its costs.
Currently, the United States offers 12 weeks unpaid leave for some workers through the Family and Medical Leave Act, which was passed 26 years ago.
Crucially, the Family Act would give paid time off to those who are sick or need to care for a sick relative. President Trump’s proposal would leave those folks out.
Fidel Hernandez, who works in fulfillment for Amazon in Kenosha, Wisconsin, desperately needed time off to care for his sick mother last year. Maria Hernandez, 65, works for a subcontractor that provides janitorial services to Amazon. She collapsed at work because of a diabetes-related issue and needed time off to recover and heal. Fidel, who lives with his mom, wanted to help cook, clean and care for her.
Neither of them could get any paid time off. Maria Hernandez took six months unpaid. Her son kept working 10-hour days. And they had trouble getting by, forced to rely on donations from a food pantry, emergency savings and some money from their local church.
“It hurt me that I could not be there for my mom,” Fidel Hernandez, who is deaf, said in a statement he plans to give Tuesday when Gillibrand, DeLauro and paid leave advocates reintroduce the bill. “After working 10 hours a day, I would drive home through construction traffic and all I could think about is, ‘Is my mom OK? God, please take care of my mom.’”
“People who work for the richest guy in the world have no paid leave,” said Ellen Bravo, a longtime advocate. “That’s got to change.”