Washington, DC – After the House Ways & Means Committee held its first hearing on paid family leave today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) wrote the following piece on Medium outlining why the FAMILY Act is the best paid family and medical leave program for all Americans:
When I travel around the country, in New York or anywhere else, I try to talk to as many families, workers, and business owners as I can. I learn a lot from these conversations about what people’s worries are, and what Congress should be doing about them. Here’s something I have heard over and over again: people all across the country are being forced to choose between their paycheck and being with a loved one during a family emergency because they don’t have access to paid leave. In some cases, a spouse is diagnosed with cancer. In others, they suddenly need to take care of an aging parent. They might be starting a new family and bringing a child home. Whatever the reason, no working American should ever have to choose between their family members and a paycheck. But if you don’t have paid leave, that’s exactly the choice that you have to make. And this is especially true if you are working a low-wage job.
It is unacceptable that we are the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn’t guarantee some form of paid leave. We must fix this now, because as more baby boomers retire, they need to know that their children can take the time to care for them when they need it. The good news is that both parties in Congress, as well as the President, now agree that we need a national paid leave program. Today, the House of Representatives held a hearing on paid leave. A lot is happening on this critically important issue, and this is good for our country. It means we are closer than ever to creating a national paid leave program. But we need to make sure we do it right and not end up with something that is paid leave in name only.
I have been working on this issue for years, and the answer is right in front of us: a comprehensive and fiscally responsible solution that is supported by Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, advocates, workers, and Senate Democratic leadership?—?and has proven to be a success in states that have implemented similar programs. It’s called the FAMILY Act. The FAMILY Act is an earned benefit, meaning it is your insurance that travels with you throughout your career, whether you’re working full-time, part-time, at a big company, at a small company?—?wherever you live, wherever you work. It is the best plan for our country. Now we just need the political will from across the aisle to pass it.
You will hear a lot about other ideas for paid leave, and I welcome a conversation about the best way to get there. But any plan has to pass the test of whether it’s real paid leave.
Here is what real paid leave means:
First, real paid leave has to cover all workers, for all of a family’s unexpected, serious medical emergencies. If a paid leave plan only covers moms and dads with newborn babies, and no one else, it leaves out seniors, spouses, yourself, and children after they first come home. That adds up to three quarters of the people who currently take unpaid time off from work. The FAMILY Act would cover all of them. It would cover everyone who works, without exception. That is real paid leave.
Second, real paid leave has to be affordable and sustainable for workers and their employers. People need to be able to afford to pay in, and their benefit has to be enough to make that worth it. The FAMILY Act would only cost as much as a cup of coffee per week. That’s it. Compare that to the massive costs of inaction. Right now, workers and their families are losing out on wages and retirement—and the economy is losing out on billions of dollars—when workers have to take unpaid time off from work. When we don’t have paid leave, it also creates a sticky floor, where too many women get stuck in low-wage jobs with no way to advance every time they come back from taking time off. All of that is bad for our economy, and the FAMILY Act would fix it once and for all.
Third, real paid leave can’t steal from our Social Security fund. Retirees worked their entire lives to collect their Social Security payments. Many of them need those funds to survive. Workers across the country today are contributing thousands of dollars every year into the Social Security pot, so it’s ready when they eventually retire. It would be a colossal mistake to pay for paid leave by siphoning funds from Social Security, which some paid leave plans currently floating around would do. The FAMILY Act would not let that happen. It wouldn’t touch the Social Security fund, and neither should anything else.
We urgently need paid leave in this country. Our workers need it, our businesses need it, and our retirees need it. I’m glad Congress is finally taking action on this issue, but we need to make sure they do it right. We must pass the FAMILY Act, and I urge all Americans who care about this to join me in fighting to pass it into law.
Read Senator Gillibrand’s Medium post HERE.