By Vicki Shabo
I still remember the goosebumps I felt three years ago today as champions for working families in Congress introduced legislation that would establish a national paid family and medical leave insurance program — the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. It was a historic moment for the country, and policymakers, business leaders, advocates and people across the country have helped build a growing drumbeat for national paid leave ever since. So much so, in fact, that most people today and a growing number of policymakers across party lines agree that we have a paid leave problem in this country. The question is now how best to fix it.
Last year on December 12, I wrote hopefully that national paid family and medical leave is a matter of when and not if — and I believe that’s still true. In fact, since then, one state has passed a new paid leave law and the District of Columbia is close to doing so too; dozens of companies have adopted new policies or expanded existing ones; thousands of articles have been written about why paid leave matters; and, for the first time, paid leave was featured in a major way in the presidential election and in election campaigns across the country.
But in this new reality, the details of a paid leave proposal are of paramount importance. Not just any paid leave plan will do. That’s why the broad and diverse coalition of organizations pushing for a national paid family and medical leave policy is committed in the months ahead to distinguishing a strong paid leave plan from one that may do more harm than good. We must advance a policy that checks all the boxes of need that the country’s workers and families, businesses and the economy have — one that doesn’t pit one community against another. There is a growing body of evidence from existing private and public policies that demonstrates what works and how best to design an effective and efficient program. This evidence paints a clear picture of what a strong policy looks like.
Specifically, a national paid leave plan must be:
- Affordable. Any plan should be cost-effective for workers, employers and the government, and it should replace a significant portion of a worker’s wages.
- Inclusive. Any plan should be accessible to all working people and include a modern definition of “family” that recognizes diverse families and caregiving responsibilities.
- Substantial. Any plan should provide for at least 12 weeks of leave, regardless of gender or a worker’s reason for needing leave.
- Comprehensive. Any plan should be available for the full range of personal medical and family caregiving needs, such as those established by the Family and Medical Leave Act.
- Secure. Any plan should be available without adverse employment consequences or fear of retaliation for taking leave.
The FAMILY Act meets these criteria and its passage should be a top priority for federal lawmakers. Eight in 10 voters (82 percent) say they think it’s important for the next president and Congress to consider a policy like it, and an analysis of candidate platforms and election outcomes shows they would be wise to do so. Candidates for U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives and governor who included paid leave on their websites this year were 5 percent more likely to win compared to those who did not, controlling for other factors, and those in competitive races were 10 percent more likely to win.
At a time when just 13 percent of private sector workers in this country have access to paid family leave through their jobs, and just 40 percent have access to paid personal medical leave through an employer’s short-term disability program, a national paid leave plan is urgently needed. But lawmakers must not forget the core principles that make a sound, effective policy — or the many stories of people across the country that illustrate why they are so important. These principles are critical to ensuring a national policy benefits all of us, meets the needs of workers and businesses, and reduces (rather than increases) inequality.
So join the national paid leave coalition in calling for a national paid leave plan that checks all the boxes. Tell your story of needing or having paid leave, share this checklist with your elected officials and social media followers, and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Use #PaidLeaveChecklist to join the conversation and reinforce the need for a strong policy. And check out the new SupportPaidLeave.org coalition website for the latest resources and to take action. Together, we can help secure the kind of comprehensive paid leave policy the country truly needs.