America needs a real national paid family and medical leave plan

There are no more excuses: Hardworking families struggling to get by need a national paid family and medical leave plan — and they need it now. Standing up for working families means ensuring we join the rest of the world in not forcing workers to choose between a desperately needed paycheck and caring for a family member. This is an essential part of rebuilding the middle class and improving an economy that is still leaving most Americans behind.

The inclusion of paid leave in the President’s budget is good news and a positive first step forward. But, as currently proposed, this plan falls far too many steps short of the realities working families face, and would leave far too many people behind, including seniors, parents with sick children, and even deployed members of the Armed Services.

The President’s plan also severely misses the mark of understanding how states manage their already overburdened Unemployment Insurance programs. This plan is set up for failure by forcing an unfunded mandate on states that most certainly can’t afford to meet the challenge as proposed, and wouldn’t be generous enough to be used by their workers. Using the low wage replacement included in the unemployment system will ensure that millions of low- and middle-income parents simply will not be able to afford to use this program, and will continue to go back to work weeks or even days after giving birth.

I stand ready to work with the White House on The FAMILY Act. The FAMILY Act is modeled on state programs that have already proven to be successful. The FAMILY Act is an earned benefit that would provide comprehensive leave with adequate and affordable wage replacement, while leveling the playing field for small businesses. It rewards work and protects families, and it is supported by people around the country and businesses big and small.


Since this is an ideas conference, I brought one idea that I’d like to challenge the President on to step up.

I want to challenge the President to join us in fighting for a national paid leave program.

Mr. President, if you are really standing up for working Americans, if you are really fighting for them, then there is no excuse not to have America join every industrialized nation in the world that already guarantees national paid leave.

It is not just a women’s issue; it is a middle-class economic issue that creates economic growth and rewards work in this country.

Year after year, we are shortchanging our workforce and we are shortchanging our economy, and that should not be acceptable to any of us as Democrats.

But this is important: If we’re going to pass a paid leave plan, it has to be a real paid leave plan, and let me explain what that is:

It has to be gender-neutral. It has to allow you to care for not just a newborn infant, but a sick or dying family member.

It should be a test of whether or not it’s real paid leave.

Remember on the campaign trail, candidate Trump broke away from most of his party, and he announced that he supported paid leave? Made sense, right?

Because paid leave shouldn’t be a Democratic or Republican idea, because it rewards work, Because it helps us care for our families. Because it grows the economy.

It’s something that we should all agree on.

But unfortunately again, this was another one of Donald Trump’s empty promises.

Real paid leave works like this:

First: It has to be national, so a state like North Dakota or Nevada doesn’t have to worry about not having enough population.

We have enough population in New York. That’s why New York was able to pass paid leave. We have twenty million people.

Second: Paid leave must be gender-neutral. That means it has to cover women and men.

It has to cover husbands who want to care for their wives when they are sick. It has to cover sons who want to care for a dying parent.

Third: Paid leave has to be comprehensive, and that means it’s not just about maternity leave. It’s not just about babies.

Because it’s not enough. You have to cover all illnesses.

No one should ever have to choose between a paycheck and being able to sit with their dying mother who has been diagnosed with cancer or Alzheimer’s.

We have to make sure that you can be with a child if they’re sick or in a wheelchair or needs the care of their parent.

It also has to be 12 weeks long. So that’s long enough so that you can be with that infant, be with that sick parent, be with that dying family member.

Fourth: It has to be sustainable.

A national paid leave plan can only be sustainable if every worker in the entire country is part of it.

So if it’s going to survive, everyone who would benefit needs to chip in. So it actually needs to be a universal earned benefit.

Fifth: Paid leave has to be affordable and manageable, for workers and businesses alike. Particularly small businesses.

Now, we have great data in from California. It’s a statewide program. It has been up and running for ten years.

What we know from California is that 90% of businesses said it had no negative impact, or a positive impact, on its bottom line.

We also know that 99% of businesses said it had a positive impact on morale and retention.

Small businesses around the country, in fact 70% of them, want a plan for paid leave, because they have to level the playing field.

How are they going to compete with the Googles and the Facebooks of the world, and have that kind of cash flow? They just don’t.

And so if you don’t have a national insurance plan, if you don’t have national paid leave, they can never compete.

Businesses also have seen the numbers. They know that this is good for the economy.

If we had a national paid leave plan it would potentially put into the economy $21 billion dollars annually.

And it makes sense, because a woman in her lifetime loses about $320,000 because we don’t have paid leave.

A man loses about $280,000 because we don’t have paid leave.

And to do a real paid leave plan, it shouldn’t just be a tax cut for the good corporations that are already doing this.

This is not about giveaways for successful companies.

So we need a bill. We have a bill. It’s called the FAMILY Act, and let me tell you what it does.

It’s a commonsense bill that passes a national paid leave plan.

It’s nationwide, it’s gender-neutral, it’s comprehensive, it’s sustainable, it affects all businesses alike, and it’s affordable.

And let me explain to you what it costs. It’s the cost of a cup of coffee a week. On average, it’s $2 a week.

So just imagine this: You’re asking every employer to say, “Would you buy one cup of coffee for each employee a week?” They overwhelming say, “Yes, I would do that. I do that anyway.”

For a worker: “Would you put $2 a week into a savings plan, to know that when your mother is dying, you can be by her side; so that when you become pregnant, you can be with your infant?” Workers will say yes.

So it’s not a lot of money. It’s $2 a week. That’s $104 per year, per employee. That’s an amount of money that any business can afford.

So I think this is something that makes sense, but I want to talk about how we are actually going to get it passed, and this is what matters the most for the people in this room.

We’ve been stuck in an era, a Mad Men era, where our policies do not reflect the face of the workforce.

7 out of 10 moms are working today. 4 out of 10 moms are primary or sole wage earners.

So time has shifted. We need this national plan. It will help the economy grow.

But something’s happening in America that I have never seen in my lifetime, and it’s about you.

It’s about the grassroots, and it’s the reason why so many of you showed up today.

How many people here marched for the Women’s March? How many?

Nearly all of us, and we marched all across the globe, we marched in New York, we marched in Washington, we marched worldwide.

And it was a moment in our history where people believed that their voice actually mattered.

After seeing Donald Trump get elected, they said, “This is not my country. I did not sign up for this. I don’t agree with this person.”

And what did they do? For the first time in their lives, people across America made a sign — they made a sign that talked about the issue that they cared most about.

They talked about the issue that made them angry, the issue that they had passion for, the issue that they were not going to stand President Trump unwinding.

So whether you were marching for Black Lives Matter, or marching for reproductive rights, or marching for LGBTQ equality, or marching for Muslims, or marching for immigration, or marching for clean air/clean water, it didn’t matter.

It was your issue. It was what you cared about.

So if we’re going to pass a national paid leave plan, we are only going to pass it if every single one of you stands up and fights for it, and demands it, and says:

“This is important to me. It’s important to my business. It’s important to our economy. It’s important to our families — because it’s about us.”

And if we aren’t willing to fight for it, it will never happen.

This moment in time is about the democratization of democracy.

It’s about each individual having a voice.

It’s the 17 year old girl who tweets something that goes viral that makes the difference.

It’s the very creative person who creates a meme that’s really funny, that says it exactly like the way it is.

That’s what’s happening today, and all of us need to be part of that.

And if all of us are a part of it, we will win. We will defeat Donald Trump. We’ll defeat his horrific policies.

And we will do good things like pass a national paid leave plan.

Thank you all.