As the Senate continues negotiations on the Build Back Better legislation, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand led a group of senators to reinforce the critical need for the inclusion of a federal paid family and medical leave program in the package. The United States is the only industrialized country in the world without a national paid leave policy—investing in a national paid leave program is long overdue and would contribute more than $1.6 trillion to the economy by giving women and families the support they need to remain in the workforce. As the Senate champion for paid leave, Gillibrand is calling for a comprehensive, permanent, and meaningful paid leave program that would cover all workers, provide progressive wage replacement to help the lowest wage earners, and cover all existing types of leave with parity.
Along with Senator Gillibrand, the letter was signed by Senators Blumenthal (D-CT), Shaheen (D-NH), Hirono (D-HI), Duckworth (D-IL), Baldwin (D-WI), Warren (D-MA), Smith (D-MN), Booker (D-NJ), Durbin (D-IL), Hassan (D-NH), Padilla (D-CA), Klobuchar (D-MN), Rosen (D-NV), and Cardin (D-MD).
“It has been nearly a decade since I first introduced the FAMILY Act—now is the time to invest in national paid leave and make bold and systemic reforms for our nation’s working families. Investing in universal paid leave will pay dividends for families and our businesses, and it will create a more equitable economy for all,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “Our economy will not recover if people can’t get back to work and keep their jobs. Just as we need resources for roads and bridges, we need to invest in the future of America’s middle class, and that means investing in universal Pre-K, affordable and quality child care, the extension of the child tax credit and a meaningful national paid leave program. I urge congressional leadership and the Biden administration to continue prioritizing this measure and I am ready to keep fighting alongside my colleagues to get this over the finish line.”
“All across the country working people are looking to Congress to stand with them, seize the moment, and ensure that a strong, equitable paid family and medical leave program is included in the Build Back Better legislative package. The Senators who have signed this letter have made it unequivocally clear that they have our backs and are committed to delivering on the historic opportunity we have right now to pass paid leave and ensure that no working person in America ever has to choose between caring for a loved one and a paycheck. We couldn’t be more honored to be standing with them.” – Molly Day, Executive Director of Paid Leave for the U.S. (PL+US)
“Nearly 30 years after the Family and Medical Leave Act became law and nearly 8 years since the introduction of the FAMILY Act, the United States is now on the cusp of winning a permanent, national paid family and medical leave program through the Build Back Better Act. I applaud paid leave champions like Senator Gillibrand, the 14 senators who signed this letter and Chairs Wyden and Murray for fighting to ensure that every working person, no matter where they live, work or their job, will have paid leave to provide or receive care.”– Vicki Shabo, Senior Fellow for Paid Leave Policy & Strategy, New America
“We are encouraged by the leadership of these Senators that keep fighting to ensure paid family and medical leave makes it in the Build Back Better package. By now, we all know that the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the lives of women, families and caregivers of all ages, genders, and backgrounds—and paid leave is one of the few policies that touches everyone. It’s time to follow the leadership of the majority of voters, the majority of Congress and the Biden Administration and pass paid leave for all.” – Lelaine Bigelow, Vice President for Social Impact and Congressional Relations, National Partnership for Women & Families
“We’re working to end an ongoing pandemic, along with a caregiving and women’s jobs crisis. Paid leave is a tool to address all of these problems, to keep workers attached to their jobs, and families and small businesses afloat. There should be no question after this last year of whether paid leave remains in this package, and there will be no lasting recovery and no real building without it. Paid leave is the most common-sense solution and a profound legacy to the challenges we’ve faced. It is an issue that unites us and the one voters demand, in red districts and blue, from rural communities, to essential workers, to military families, to working families in battleground states and beyond. We trust the Congress and the Administration will deliver on these promises.” – Dawn Huckelbridge, Paid Leave for All
Despite the universal need, only 23% of working people in the United States have access to paid leave through their employer, and just 7% of lower-wage workers have access to even a single day of paid family leave. Rural communities especially lack access to paid family leave, with rural women being significantly less likely to be offered paid family leave or maternity leave by their employers than their urban and suburban counterparts. Additionally, millions of families are just one unexpected bill away from financial emergency and because they lack paid leave, are forced into impossible choices between losing their jobs and being able to care for themselves and their families. More than 2.5 million women left the U.S. workforce during the pandemic, and women lost nearly a million more jobs than men in 2020. Many have been forced to leave due to family considerations, including increased responsibilities as caregivers or because they work in industries that have been among the hardest hit. These losses are disproportionately felt by Black and Latina women.
Gillibrand is the leading advocate in the United States Senate on paid family and medical leave; she introduced the FAMILY Act in 2013 and every subsequent Congress. Her proposal would create a universal and permanent paid leave program to provide partial wage replacement in the event of a serious personal or family medical emergency. Six states and Washington D.C. have used similar models and have succeeded at creating a more equitable and sustainable workforce. The FAMILY Act was most recently introduced in February 2021 with 35 original cosponsors, including Senate leadership and the chairs of the Senate Finance and HELP Committees. Gillibrand also successfully secured the national emergency paid leave program in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and successfully pushed for an extension of the program in the recent American Rescue Plan Act.
The full letter can be found here and below.
Dear President Biden, Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer,
As Congress continues to work with the Biden-Harris Administration on the Build Back Better American Families Plan infrastructure package, we write to reinforce the critical need for a federal paid family and medical leave program that will create meaningful economic security for all Americans and their families as we continue to recover from the health and economic crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We urge you to include a national paid leave program that is meaningful, comprehensive and permanent in the Build Back Better Act. It must be universal to cover all workers, provide progressive wage replacement to help the lowest wage earners, and cover all existing types of leave with parity. This is one of our top policy priorities in this historic legislation. Just as we need roads and bridges, we need paid leave along with affordable and accessible child care and the expanded child tax credit, to ensure our families have a full range of needed supports.
Paid leave is a critical policy to improve the economic security of families, support businesses, and increase economic growth. The pandemic has exposed an acute emergency on top of an ongoing, chronic caregiving crisis for working people and employers alike. We cannot emerge from this crisis and remain one of the only countries in the world with no form of national paid leave. Now is the time to make a bold and robust investment in our nation’s working families.
The Build Back Better package must include a national paid leave program that covers all workers because, at one point or another, nearly everyone will need to take leave from work to give or receive care, whether it’s to welcome a new child, be there for an aging parent or loved one, or to recover from their own major surgery, serious illness like cancer or substance use disorders. Despite the universal need, only 23 percent of working people in this country have access to paid leave through their employer, and lower-wage workers are the least likely to have access with just 7 percent of low-wage workers having access to even a single day of paid family leave. Millions of families are just one unexpected bill away from financial emergency, and a lack of paid leave forces people into impossible choices between losing their jobs and income and being able to care for themselves and their families.
The lack of paid leave is not only a concern for working families; it is also a concern for the business community, in particularly small businesses, as we have now seen more than two million women leave the workforce since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 650 companies are publicly calling for national paid leave policy because they know that paid leave helps businesses. Paid leave has been proven to increase worker retention, reduce turnover, and improve productivity. A recent study showed that women with access to paid leave are 40% more likely to return to work after giving birth than those without access. Older adults caring for loved ones in states with paid leave are more likely to return to work after using paid leave for a period of family caregiving, and workers with paid leave can recover and return more easily from their own serious health issue. In addition, paid leave helps level the playing field for small businesses and startups, which too often struggle to attract top talent because they can’t afford to compete with larger employers’ paid leave benefits. Nationwide, 70% of small businesses support the creation of a national paid leave program.
Paid leave is a key element of addressing racial, class, and gender inequalities in the United States. Paid leave is a racial justice policy – workers of color are less likely to have paid leave at work, suffer the health disparities that have resulted from systemic injustices and often have multi-generational caregiving responsibilities. It is also a gender justice policy: women are more likely to leave work to provide care to children and to older adults and less likely than men to have paid leave when they need time away to care. A national paid leave program will also help ensure that we are prepared for the demographic changes of the years ahead: U.S. Census data from 2019 shows that more than one in every seven Americans is 65 and older. With an aging U.S. population, eldercare is a growing responsibility for Americans. Many workers are faced with the dual responsibility of caring for an elderly family member as well as young children — and most have no access to paid leave.
The benefits of a national paid leave policy are clear, and Americans across the political spectrum recognize this. Paid leave is overwhelmingly popular: 84% of voters support a national paid leave program — including 74% of Republicans. The American public is aligned on the need, and it’s time for us to deliver on this critical promise to families.
There is no lasting recovery — no real rebuilding — without care. Paid leave is a necessary and long overdue investment that would contribute to adding more than $1.6 trillion to our economy through increased women’s workforce participation. An investment in paid leave will pay dividends for our families, our businesses, and our economy, while creating a more equitable recovery for all. We cannot afford to wait.