New York, NY – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was joined today by New York City working parents and a small business owner in calling on Congress to join every other industrialized nation in the world by passing federal legislation that would create paid maternity leave, in addition to medical leave. Gillibrand’s Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act would establish a national, gender-neutral paid family and medical leave insurance program, ensuring that American workers would no longer have to choose between a paycheck and caring for themselves or a family member.
“When a young parent needs time to care for a newborn child – it should never come down to an outdated policy that lets her boss decide how long it will take – and decide the fate of her career and her future along with it,” said Senator Gillibrand. “When any one of us – man or woman – needs time to care for a dying parent – we should not have to sacrifice our job and risk our future to do the right thing for our family. Choosing between your loved ones and your career and your future is a choice no New Yorker should have to make.”
“Becoming a new parent has challenges under the best of circumstances. I spent those first months caring for my newborn, cooking, cleaning, learning what he needed at each developmental stage, and working,” said Loren Miller, single mother of a 13 year-old in Brooklyn. “My son was sick a lot and I was utterly sleep deprived. I could barely cover our rent and food and I went into debt. I was constantly worried about how to make ends meet and certainly not at my most productive. As a society, we need to do a lot better to help parents get their kids off to a good start. The FAMILY Act is a powerful step in the right direction.”
“As small business owners, we are very close to our team members and understand the challenges that they face at home,” said Christopher Kelly, Co-Founder and President of Convene. “It is regrettable that the birth of a child, which should mark a high point in one’s life is often overshadowed by employment insecurity. We believe that a more holistic, family oriented benefits program is not only the right thing to do but is also good business. Senator Gillibrand’s legislation is the right thing to do.”
“Strong family leave policies help level the playing field between small businesses that want to offer this benefit but can’t, and their larger counterparts that can,” said Erik Rettig, Northeast Outreach Manager for Small Business Majority. “Small employers know robust family leave policies create a happier and more productive staff, which in turn leads to increased productivity. Many small business owners think of their employees as family, so it’s no surprise they support policies like Senator Gillibrand’s FAMILY Act that enable them to foster a happier workforce while protecting their workers and their bottom line.”
Current federal law provides unpaid, job-protected leave for up to twelve weeks for serious health related events for only about half of the workforce. The other half do not qualify for this unpaid leave, and many more simply cannot afford to take it because it is unpaid. In fact, only 12 percent of workers in the U.S. have access to paid family leave through their employers, and less than 40 percent of workers have access to personal medical leave through employer-provided temporary disability insurance.
Across New York, small businesses favor paid family leave. According to a 2013 poll conducted by the Small Business Majority, 6 in 10 New York entrepreneurs support setting up publicly administered family and medical leave insurance pools that would provide employees with a portion of their wages for a limited number of weeks, allowing them to care for a new a baby or seriously ill family member. Nearly 8 in 10 New York small business owners have some type of policy – formal or informal – in place when it comes to family medical leave and parental leave.
The FAMILY Act would create an independent trust fund within the Social Security Administration to collect fees and provide benefits. This trust would be funded by employee and employer contributions of 0.2 percent of wages each, creating a self-sufficient program that would not add to the federal budget. The expected cost to the average worker would be similar to the expense of a cup of coffee a week. Benefit levels, modeled on existing successful state programs in New Jersey and California, would equal 66 percent of an individual’s typical monthly wages up to a capped monthly amount that would be indexed for inflation.
The proposal makes leave available to every individual for up to 60 workdays or 12 weeks regardless of the size of their current employer and regardless of whether such individual is currently employed by an employer, self-employed or currently unemployed, as long as the person has sufficient earnings and work history. Under this plan, workers would be able to address their own serious health condition, including pregnancy or childbirth, and those of their loved ones – whether it’s caring for a new child or a seriously ill parent, spouse, or partner.
Senator Gillibrand noted that leaders in New York are working hard to pass legislation to help New York’s working families; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council fought hard to ensure that thousands of workers have access to paid sick days for the first time and the New York Assembly passed legislation in March that would establish paid leave.