Family leave is one of the many ways the United States lags behind its peers on workers’ rights, but Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) aim to change that. The two Democrats are pushing the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, which would create a national insurance system allowing workers paid leave time to deal with their own serious health conditions or those of family members. Even families with health insurance struggle when the choice is between being available to take care of a sick loved one or going to work and getting a paycheck:
In a testimony gathered by the New York State Paid Family Leave Coalition, a mother named Devorah from Rosendale, N.Y. recalled the hardships she faced when her daughter was born premature with a severe medical condition and continued to suffer from long-term medical problems in later years. Though her family had some insurance protection, Devorah said, “By the time we walked out of the hospital with our baby, we had spent an additional $30,000 out of pocket.” In her daughter’s first years, she went on:
There were times when … we didn’t pay our bills. We didn’t pay the gas company or the oil company or the phone company. If there was a choice between prescription drugs and groceries, we bought prescription drugs. If there was a choice between groceries and the phone bill, we went without a phone. … And it’s taken us six years to dig our way out of the financial hole that this dumped us into.
Workers would get up to 12 weeks of leave in a year, receiving 66 percent of their pay (up to a capped amount). The benefits would be financed by small employee and employer payroll contributions—small as in two-tenths of one percent, or two cents for every $10 in wages—and available to all workers insured by Social Security Disability Insurance, not just those currently eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act. It would be administered by the Social Security Administration, an agency that knows a little something about handling social insurance funded by payroll contributions. And the plan is modeled on similar programs that are already working, and working well, in California and New Jersey; another begins in Rhode Island in 2014.
The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act fills a clear need: people often report that the reason they don’t take FMLA’s unpaid leave is that they can’t afford to do so. It’s modeled on programs that already work. It’s humane. It would especially help women, since women are both most likely to be caregivers and are, on average, paid less than men. It’s crazy that the United States doesn’t already have a law like this. Yet until and unless Democrats control the House, Senate, and presidency, we can count on Republicans blocking it.
This article was originally printed on Daily Kos on December 20, 2013. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.