Legislation to create a gender-neutral paid family and medical leave program was recently reintroduced by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, in an effort to urge Congress to pass the bill.
Initially introduced in 2015, the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act would allow Americans to receive paid leave in the event of the birth or adoption of a new child or a serious personal or family medical emergency. The legislation would entitle workers, regardless of their gender, age, or size of employer, up to 66 percent wage-replacement for 12 weeks.
Gillibrand made the announcement with U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., on Tuesday.
The United States is the only industrialized nation in the world without a national paid leave program, Gillibrand said.
“When there’s a medical emergency in a family or a new baby is born or an elderly parent gets sick these families are stuck with an awful choice that no American family should have to make,” Gillibrand said. “Some [people] have to keep working to keep the power on and pay the bills and they aren’t there for their family in a time that’s most needed.”
The legislation would also help the economy, Gillibrand said.
“This is hurting our families, but it’s also hurting our economy and employers,” she said. “The business community knows that if we have a national paid leave plan it would put a lot of money, potentially $21 billion, back into the economy every year.”
Women lose $324,000 in wages and retirement benefits over a lifetime and men lose $284,000 without a national paid family leave program, according to a statement issued from Gillibrand’s office Tuesday.
Only 40 percent of American workers have access to paid personal medical leave for a serious illness and 14 percent have access to paid family leave through their employer, DeLauro said.
The program would be funded by employee and employer payroll contributions, which would cost the average worker $1.50 a week, DeLauro said.
“We have researchers from states where paid leave laws have past shown that implementing the policy has had positive effects on recruitment, retention, productivity and overall improvements,” DeLauro said. “The time for paid family and medical leave is long overdue. We are going to keep fighting until no American worker has to choose between sacrificing a paycheck and caring for their family during the toughest time.”
U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19, also commented on the need for a paid family leave plan.
“Current paid family leave laws fail to address the changing circumstances of the modern workforce,” he said. “Many working families do not adhere to the traditional nine-to-five work schedule anymore. With the rise of the independent contractor economy and the resurgence of small business entrepreneurs, we need to address paid family leave to provide security for all growing families.”
Faso also spoke on the need for equality with such legislation.
“We must find creative policy approaches that provide access to these benefits and treat recipients equally,” he said. “We also need to ensure that new family leave laws do not unnecessarily burden our job creators, especially small businesses.”
Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106, sponsored state legislation passed in 2016 to establish a paid family leave program in New York. Once fully phased in, the program will allow employees to be eligible for 12 weeks of paid leave to care for an infant, or family member with a serious illness.
The program will cost employees a 45-cent weekly contribution, according to the bill summary.
Barrett did not comment on the federal legislation.
Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-102, voiced concerns about how the federal legislation would affect businesses.
“For a business it does create some challenges, not to say they are insurmountable, but it does put pressure on a business to lose a trained employee and then have to bring someone in on a temporary basis and lose them when the other employee comes back,” he said.
Lopez also questioned the program’s funding.
“On this issue [paid family leave] I would say it’s an experiment in progress,” Lopez said. “The question is, can the funds be solvent over time and will the premiums be affordable for the participants if it’s coming out of employee deductions.”
The director of the Columbia County Public Health Department also commented on the economic aspect of the program.
“This is a social and economic issue,” Jack Mabb said. “No one can dispute that when a major medical emergency hits home it is always better to have full family support and it’s always better for a wage earner to have the peace of mind that money keeps coming in during these tough times and their job is waiting for them when they return. The devil in the details is how it is going to be paid for.”
The director for the Greene County Public Health Department did not return calls for comment.
The bill has 114 original cosponsors in the house and 26 in the Senate, DeLauro said, all of which are Democrats.
“We have been working with a lot of Republicans offices for a while to try to find a cosponsor, [and] we are still working on it,” Gillibrand said.
Gillibrand does not believe a national pay leave plan is a partisan issue and is hopeful the Trump administration will work with her on the plan.
“President Trump campaigned on a national pay leave plan and Ivanka gave an excellent speech at the [Republican National] convention about the importance of it,” Gillibrand said. “I think over 70 percent of Americans want a national pay leave plan and something like over 60 percent feel very strongly about it. It’s not a partisan issue. It affects people in all states – red and blue.”