Family and Medical Leave Insurance Legislation Introduced in Congress

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMILY) Act, to create a federal paid family and medical leave insurance program for American workers. The bill builds on successful state family leave insurance programs in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island where workers, communities, and businesses have reaped the benefits of policies that enable workers both to do their jobs and care for themselves and their families. The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) strongly urges Congress to pass this legislation, which is especially important to the lives of low-income families.

Few employers offer paid family and medical leave to their employees. Only 13 percent of private sector workers currently have paid family leave, and fewer than 40 percent have access to disability insurance for personal medical leave. For these workers, taking time off to care for themselves or their families results in lost wages or even lost jobs – outcomes that are harmful to any family’s economic security, but that are devastating to those already barely making ends meet on low wages.  Lower-wage workers and workers of color are disproportionately likely to lack paid leave.

“Access to paid leave has implications that span multiple generations,” explained Olivia Golden, executive director at CLASP. “Without paid leave, working parents risk their families’ economic security when they take leave. When they can’t afford to take it, they are forced to put their children’s health and development at risk. At the same time, a rapidly increasing share of the workforce must care for aging parents or relatives, which adds another dimension to the pressure at home and at work without paid leave.”

While a paid family and medical leave insurance system would take a significant burden off of working families, it would also create an economic opportunity for businesses and communities.  In California, where paid family leave has been implemented for more than a decade, 9 out of 10 employers report that the state’s paid family leave law has had a positive or no effect on business. In turn, 91 percent of low-wage workers who used paid leave say it helped them better care for a new child. California employers who are implementing their state law say they welcome federal legislation like the FAMILY Act, which was originally introduced in 2013 and has been reintroduced in this new session of Congress.

Kevin Trapani, CEO and president of Redwoods Group, an employer in North Carolina, said, “There’s so much that I love about the FAMILY Act. First, it’s not red or blue; it’s an opportunity for both parties to come together to do what’s right for families.” Trapani, whose company provides generous paid leave options, called the FAMILY Act “the ultimate egalitarian move to create economic security for families all across America.” In testimony before Congress last year, the business leader described the substantial benefits of paid leave for his company’s bottom line.

Along with Trapani, a growing number of business leaders have expressed support for the FAMILY Act. Business owners point to low costs, increased productivity, and employee loyalty as benefits.  Polling data released by Small Business Majority shows that a plurality of small business owners across the country support a family and medical leave insurance program like the one proposed in the FAMILY Act.  For smaller businesses that may have struggled to afford paid leave in the past, the bill is especially important. The insurance model proposed under the FAMILY Act enables these employers to compete with larger businesses for the best employees by offering a highly valued workplace policy, without having to shoulder the entire cost of paid leave.

The Gillibrand-DeLauro legislation comes amidst growing recognition of the importance of paid leave. Indeed, President Obama has prioritized the issue, calling not only for federal legislation but also incentives and support for states to move forward on their own in the absence of a national law. Together with broad public support for paid leave, this attention from the White House highlights the need for Congress to act quickly and pass this legislation.

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 CLASP develops and advocates for policies at the federal, state, and local levels that improve the lives of low-income people, with a focus on strengthening families and creating pathways to education and work. Through careful research and analysis and effective advocacy, we foster and promote new ideas, mobilize others, and help advocates and government implement strategies that deliver results for people across America. For more information, visit www.clasp.org and follow @CLASP_DC.