Sen. Duckworth’s victory can mean big things for families, if Congress acts

Sen. Duckworth’s victory can mean big things for families, if Congress acts
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At a time when it’s hard to find common ground on any issue, Americans recently came together and agreed that a mother should be allowed to take care of her baby while doing her job. The Senate’s decision to allow Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthDem strategist: It's 'far-left thinking' to call for Nielsen's resignation Top Senate Dem calls on DHS secretary to resign over family separations Conservative writer: I want Dems across the country to emulate Ocasio-Cortez's campaign MORE (D-Ill.) to bring her daughter on the floor of the chamber so that she can cast votes was a commonsense, family-oriented solution.

Bipartisan public policy success has a way of building on itself; one small step can lead to greater understanding of why bigger actions are needed. We’ve seen some such steps this year, even before the vote that helped Sen. Duckworth bond with her daughter. Advocates continue to thank Congress for the substantial investment in families with young children in the recent omnibus budget bill, particularly for the historic increase for the Child Care and Development Block Grant and the significant funding increase so that Early Head Start can extend its proven services to more infants, toddlers and families living in poverty.

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These actions, plus Sen. Duckworth’s victory, lead us to ask: What more can Congress do for all families?

 

As Americans, we like to think every opportunity should be available to everyone, no matter where you live or who you are. Unfortunately, that’s not true when it comes to the supports our country provides for babies.

Right now, only 13 percent of the U.S. workforce receives paid leave through their employers. Less than 40 percent of women have personal medical leave through an employer-provided disability program, which provides partial pay to women recovering from pregnancy and childbirth. The percentage of employers providing fully-paid maternity leave through a disability program fell from 16 percent in 2008 to just 9 percent in 2014, leaving most working moms and dads without access to paid leave.

Four states have such family leave programs — California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island — and the economies in these states continue to thrive. The majority of employers find no increased costs and are in favor of such programs. Small businesses often are especially receptive, since a state paid-leave policy can help them compete with larger businesses offering more robust benefit packages.

Creating a national paid family leave program, so parents in every state and in every job have time to bond with their babies without sacrificing their financial security, is really the answer. And paid family leave is not just about parental leave; it should also cover family and medical leave as well.

No one doubts that the first days and months of a baby’s life are critical to a child’s healthy development. In the first three years, brain connections form at the astonishing rate of more than a million a second, laying the foundation for all future learning. In the words of renowned psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner, whose worked helped to establish the Head Start program in 1965, in order to flourish, “every child needs at least one adult who is irrationally crazy about him or her.”

Positive, consistent relationships during a baby’s earliest days result in an individual who is better equipped for success in school and in life. This paves the way for bigger returns down the road, including a higher-quality workforce and strong economic growth.

Paid leave policies also yield significant benefits for employers by reducing staff turnover and the subsequent costs associated with training and hiring staff.  These costs can amount to upwards of 150 percent of a salaried worker’s annual pay, or 50 to 75 percent of an hourly worker’s annual pay.

On May 8, infants, toddlers and their families from all 50 states and the District of Columbia will arrive on Capitol Hill for the second annual “Strolling Thunder” event. The families will share their stories with members of Congress and urge them to think about babies and act — for stronger families, vibrant communities and a prosperous country. Supporting national paid family leave is a commonsense way to accomplish these goals.

Myra Jones-Taylor is chief policy officer at ZERO to THREE, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of better outcomes for babies, toddlers and their families. Prior to this role, Dr. Jones-Taylor was the founding commissioner of the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, a cabinet-level state agency responsible for early intervention, education and child care licensing programs.