Could Paid Family Leave Become a Reality in U.S.?

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The Family and Medical Leave Act allows workers to take time off for their own serious illnesses, to care for a spouse, parent or child with a serious illness or for maternity or paternity leave.

Thursday, a New Haven congresswoman and New York Senator introduced a bill that would provide partial pay to workers who need to take time off for those same reasons, even if they work for an employer too small to be covered by the FMLA or have a part-time job with too few hours to qualify for FMLA.

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, said in her announcement of the FAMILY Act: “In 1986, when I was Chief of Staff to Senator Chris Dodd, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. My doctors caught it early, but I still needed time for radiation treatment, recuperation and recovery. Senator Dodd told me to focus on getting well, and to take the time I needed. I could get better without worrying if I was out of a job or paycheck. All workers should have this opportunity when they need it.”

The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act would levy a tax of 2 cents for every 10 dollars earned on both workers and employers, and that money would fund a trust within the Social Security system that would pay about two-thirds of workers’ salaries, up to $75,000, for up to 12 weeks of leave.

This is the third time since 2007 that Congress members have introduced proposals to create a paid-leave system, and neither of the previous two bills even got a vote in committee, much less a vote in either chamber. There are no Republican co-sponsors on the FAMILY Act, so the chances of this bill becoming law in the next year are slim to none.

Vicki Shabo, director of work and family programs National Partnership for Women & Families, said while the other two bills died without a vote, they were important to start the conversation. She noted that only 50 percent of new working mothers have access to any paid maternity leave, either with vacation or sick days or short-term disability.

She said that the idea of paid family leave has “bipartisan support in the public. It’s only a matter of time until there’s bipartisan support in the Congress as well.”

The nonprofit, which was a leader in lobbying for FMLA, noted that 181 countries have paid maternity leave, unlike the United States.

The paid leave would be funded by a new tax on both workers and employers, which would cost 2 cents for every 10 dollars earned. The leave would cover two-thirds of pay for workers, up to a cap of $75,000, Shabo said.

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