Earlier this month, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro introduced legislation that would provide paid family and medical leave for American workers. The Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act (FAMILY) creates an insurance fund to provide workers with 66 percent of their regular pay, with limits, for up to 12 weeks while they tend to family health conditions including illness, pregnancy and the birth or adoption of a child. The legislation also provides paid leave for caregivers of military personnel.
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides job protection for employees that need time off to tend to medical and family concerns, but 80 percent of workers cannot afford to take this unpaid leave, according to DeLauro. Currently, only 12 percent of workers have paid family leave through employers, 40 percent for serious medical conditions according to the Department of Labor.
The FAMILY Act creates an independent agency within the Social Security Administration and establishes an independent trust fund. The program would be self-funded through employee and employer contributions of 0.2 percent of wages, about $1.50 per week for the average wage earner. Paid leave will be available to all individuals regardless of the size of their employer and current employment status as long as the person has sufficient earnings and work history.
Proponents of the bill says it will provide income security for families, improve health outcomes for children, adults and seniors, and reduce the burden on employers as the costs of family leave is spread to all employees. Additionally, a national paid leave program will strengthen the nation’s economy by keeping family caregivers in the workforce as contributing, productive members.
Men as well as women are eligible to take this paid leave for the birth of a child. Liza Mundy, writing in the January/February 2014 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, notes that countries with the strongest economies are ones that have found ways to support women in the workplace. Offering paid paternity leaves is one mechanism that has helped women continue careers after becoming a mother. Fathers who take a leave to care for a newborn are more likely to continue contributing to childcare tasks as the baby grows, according to Mundy. This helps mothers with the “second shift” and makes it possible for women to continue being productive members of the workforce.
The FAMILY Act is modeled after the California Paid Family Leave Act of 2002. Despite initial concerns that the law would be burdensome to California businesses, 91percent of businesses surveyed in 2011 reported the Paid Family Leave program had either a positive effect, or no noticeable effect on profitability, and 88.5 percent of businesses reported positive or no effect on productivity.