National Partnership for Women & Families

As the Family and Medical Leave Act Turns 25, the Country Urgently Needs a National Paid Leave Plan, Women’s Leader Says

Statement of Debra L. Ness, President, National Partnership for Women & Families
WASHINGTON, D.C. — February 5, 2018 —

“Twenty-five years ago today, our nation took a major step toward a more equitable and family friendly future when the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) became law. It was the country’s first national law ever to recognize the challenges working people face when children are born or adopted, or serious health issues arise. The FMLA supported women as breadwinners and caregivers, and it advanced women’s equality. But it was always intended to be a first step. Today, with the country in the midst of another historic conversation about gender equality, paid leave is essential to creating the kind of lasting change women, families, businesses and the next generation need.

As a nation, we have reached an extraordinary moment of consensus and conviction in the national effort to win paid family and medical leave for all. There is now broad and growing agreement among voters, scholars, lawmakers and business leaders, across political parties and ideologies, that we need a national paid leave plan. But the details matter tremendously and key policy principles are essential to ensuring that the national plan we adopt will be affordable, sustainable, inclusive and effective. There is a strong and growing body of evidence from the private sector and successful state programs that demonstrates what does and does not work.

We must pay attention to what we have learned and refuse to be fooled by half-measures or fake proposals that ignore the research and policy testing of the past two decades. Proposals that rely on scarce resources and threaten longstanding programs like unemployment insurance or existing Social Security funds, without providing new revenue, will do more harm than good. So will proposals that create false incentives for employers to offer paid leave, fail to provide meaningful wage replacement or exclude the key reasons people need leave – such as for their own serious health issues or those of a loved one. We must reject proposals that threaten our progress. Otherwise, we will squander this very important opportunity to strengthen our families, businesses and economy.

It is long past time for Congress to fulfill the promise of the FMLA by passing a national paid family and medical leave plan. But not just any plan will do. Reports that Republican lawmakers and the Trump administration are looking at redirecting existing Social Security trust fund resources for paid leave are extremely concerning. Such a plan would harm women in particular because they are still primary caregivers for their families and the wages they receive over their lifetimes trail men’s, leading to monthly Social Security benefits that are an average of 20 percent lower for women than men. But no one should have to borrow against already low Social Security benefits in order to access the paid family and medical leave they need. Our country deserves to have the promise of Social Security protected.

Lawmakers should instead consider all of the evidence and support the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which is the leading paid leave proposal in Congress. The FAMILY Act would create a paid family and medical leave insurance fund, similar to those working well in states, that would make paid leave available to all working people for the full range of serious personal and family caregiving needs people have throughout their lives. The FAMILY Act is the kind of national paid leave policy the country needs.

As the organization that drafted and led the fight for the FMLA, we are proud of how it has transformed our nation’s workplaces and culture – and we are more committed than ever to helping the country take the next step. That is why we are joining with our partner organizations, business leaders, lawmakers and working people across the country this week to call for a national paid leave law. A strong national coalition has been driving the movement for paid leave in our communities, our workplaces, our states and cities and in Congress, and we are making our voices heard online and on the ground. We won’t rest until every working person in this country has access to paid family and medical leave.”

NOTE: Last Monday, the National Partnership released analyses of demographic data in all 50 states and the District of Columbia that demonstrate the significant and growing need for a national paid family and medical leave plan that covers all working people for the full range of care needs. The findings for each state are available at NationalPartnership.org/PaidLeaveMeansMap.

Contact

Sadie Kliner (202) 986-2600 skliner@nationalpartnership.org

The National Partnership for Women & Families drafted and led the fight for the Family and Medical Leave Act. The organization is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, access to quality health care and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family. More information is available at www.NationalPartnership.org.

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