Why EVERYBODY Needs Paid Family and Medical Leave

By Pronita Gupta

Fourteen years ago, when I became a new mother, I experienced both elation and dread. I was so happy to have a beautiful baby girl after a problematic pregnancy, but I was also inconsolable when she needed to be delivered early and had to go to the NICU unit, where she would remain for two-and-a-half weeks. As I dealt with my own healing and worried about her health, the one stress I didn’t have was economic insecurity. I was fortunate to be among the first people who could take advantage of California’s new Paid Family Leave program, which began the year before. I was able to take 6 weeks of paid leave to heal, care, and bond with my new baby.

Those were challenging weeks, but I did not have to make hard choices between paying rent or buying diapers. However, 93 percent of low-wage workers in the United States have no access to paid leave and are forced to make these bleak choices. This is why we need to pass the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which is being reintroduced in Congress today. The FAMILY Act would establish a federal program to ensure all workers can take up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child, heal from their own serious illness, or provide care for a seriously ill family member.

Nobody should be penalized for taking time to care and heal. However, many workers are penalized, with one in 7 workers having lost a job due to taking family or medical leave and many low-wage workers losing all their income when doing so. The proliferation of low-wage jobs, which usually don’t offer paid leave or other benefits, make the need for federal action paramount.

While my daughter has grown to be a happy and healthy teenager, I am now dealing with a parent who has Alzheimer’s. However, I know that when I need to take time to care for him as his condition worsens, I work for an organization like CLASP that values caregiving and has its own paid family and medical leave policy. Furthermore, I work in the District of Columbia, which passed a paid family and medical leave law that’ll take effect in 2020.  One shouldn’t have to win the boss lottery nor move to one of the six states and the District of Columbia with paid family and medical leave programs, to have peace of mind when they need to take time to heal and care. We need a national solution—we need the FAMILY Act.