Real workers need a real paid leave solution
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The president’s effort to soften the blow of a breathtakingly irresponsible budget proposal by including a so-called paid leave plan has made headlines. But it is essential that we closely analyze the details so that nobody is confused about whether his plan would really be effective for working families.

On those measures, Trump’s proposal fails.

To be clear, this is not about President Trump; it’s about sound policy and real people. No matter where on the political spectrum it comes from, a paid leave plan that ignores the real needs of workers, families, businesses and our economy is not a real solution. This one also ignores years of research from the private and public sectors about what works (and what doesn’t), and relies on fuzzy math, draconian cuts to essential programs and debilitating new requirements on already fragile state unemployment insurance programs. 

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That hasn’t stopped paid leave opponents from claiming Trump’s proposal should make paid leave advocates happy. Some are using it to trot out disproven arguments and distort data in an effort to shift the conversation backward, away from what a plan should look like and instead to whether we even need one. This is ridiculous and an insult to millions of working families and decades of work to make paid leave an unprecedented part of the nation’s agenda.

 

The vast majority of people in this country are struggling without paid family and medical leave. And although honoring the needs of parents caring for new children is critically important, more than three in four people who take family and medical leave do so to recover from a serious illness or injury, or to care for a seriously ill relative — most often an older parent, spouse or child. Parents-only plans leave these people behind.

Trump’s proposal would only apply to new parents for the birth or adoption of a child. It would not cover people who need leave from their jobs to deal with their own serious health issue, to care for a seriously ill or injured family member, or to deal with a service member’s call to duty. And even those who need paid parental leave might not be helped by it in most states because of limited funds, strict eligibility requirements and low benefit levels.

The good news is consensus is growing. Voters and lawmakers across party lines agree action is needed, and employers small and large support a public paid leave policy. Last week, bipartisan scholars came together around core paid leave principles. Their plan has flaws, but the areas of agreement — equal leave for women and men, funding through social insurance, meaningful wage replacement and job protection — are a sign of remarkable progress. And they intend to integrate family care and personal medical leave into their plan over the next year.

According to a new analysis released by the National Partnership for Women & Families this week, including family care and personal medical leave in any paid leave plan is essential. Our nation’s aging population, increases in demand for family care and gaps in labor force participation by both women and men are powerful forces that are making paid leave for family care and personal medical reasons a necessity — and people in many states would be poorly served if these reasons for taking leave were excluded from a paid leave plan.

In short, any national paid leave policy must recognize that people need leave no matter their parenting status. And to be truly effective, it must be available to all working people, apply to women and men equally, provide at least 12 weeks of paid leave, cover the range of well-established reasons people need both family and medical leave, protect against retaliation for needing or taking leave and be affordable for workers and employers. It must also include a payment scheme that reflects the fact that both employers and workers benefit from paid leave. 

Right now, just one proposal checks all the boxes that working people, families, businesses and our economy need. The Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act is modeled on lessons from state programs and would create an inclusive and responsibly funded paid leave program. Hundreds of organizations, employers of all sizes, and nearly eight in 10 voters already support this common sense measure.

We are thrilled that the country has moved on to this new chapter in the national paid leave debate. Consensus about the problem creates a historic opportunity to advance solutions. Opponents should ask themselves why they are trying to halt progress, and stop using scare tactics to try to stall us or take us backward. The country will benefit if this is the beginning of real dialogue among people and organizations that care about finding a real solution.

Debra L. Ness is president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that led the fight for the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.

Vicki Shabo is vice president at the National Partnership and currently leads the national coalition of groups pushing for paid family and medical leave. 


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