Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian presses Congress for paid paternity leave
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Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian hit the halls of Congress on Tuesday to advocate for paid paternity and family leave.

Ohanian, who is married to tennis star Serena Williams, teamed up with Dove Men+Care and the Paid Leave for the United States campaign to make his case to lawmakers. 

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The investor was outspoken in 2017 when he decided to take paid leave from his venture capital firm after Williams gave birth to their child. Williams suffered serious complications after giving birth, and Ohanian cared for both Williams and their daughter, Olympia, while on leave.

Ohanian told The Hill “it meant the world” that he was able to take that time to be with his family.

“There was nowhere else in the world I would rather have been than supporting my family,” Ohanian said in a phone interview. “It was during that time that I realized, and it really sunk in, how many people don’t have that privilege, and how I would not want any of my employees to feel that way.”

“Similarly, I wouldn’t want any of my fellow Americans to feel that way,” he added.

Ohanian was part of more than 20 “dadvocates” — fathers for whom Dove Men+Care is funding paternity leave — who held meetings with lawmakers ahead of that evening’s reception with the Future Forum, a group of young House Democrats.

Dove Men+Care has committed to awarding $1 million in grants over the next two years to fund paternity leave for “real dads across the country,” according to its website.

Nick Soukas, a vice president at Dove Men+Care's parent company Unilever, said the company has received more than 30,000 applications for the grants.

“The hardest job was deciding how many [grants] we could give out because of all the great stories that were coming through,” Soukas told The Hill in a brief interview.

One of those stories was Rob Skaggs, a father of four who spoke at Tuesday’s reception about how one of his children has been undergoing cancer treatment while a newborn son was born with severe heart defects. Though he was able to take time off to be with his wife and children, that time was unpaid.

Skaggs told The Hill he wanted to make sure no other fathers would have to choose between being with their children and supporting their family financially.

“This last year has been the hardest year of our life,” Skaggs said in a brief interview. “I wanted to do what I could to promote paid family leave at a national level, so [other parents] wouldn’t have to go through what I did.” 

Katie Bethell, the founder and executive director of Paid Leave for the United States, told The Hill that she expects to see the House pass paid family leave legislation this session, and she hopes to see similar momentum in the GOP-controlled Senate. Activists held meetings with several senators Tuesday, including three Republicans and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), according to Bethell, who did not say which GOP senators they met with.

Many of the fathers brought their children to the Future Forum reception, as did Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonDeval Patrick beefs up campaign staff Lawmakers honor JFK on 56th anniversary of his death Pardoning war crimes dishonors the military MORE (D-Mass.), who explained that his 1-year-old daughter, Emmy, was spending the week with him in D.C. while his wife was on a business trip.

Other new congressional dads at the reception included freshman Reps. Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamConservative group unveils million ad campaign against Trump impeachment Club for Growth extends advertising against House Dems over impeachment Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising MORE (D-S.C.), whose son was born during the 2018 campaign, and Colin Allred (D-Texas), who had spent only a month on the job before returning to Dallas for the birth of his child.

“We deserve better, we need better in this country, and we need to push companies to offer paid paternity leave,” Cunningham said. “We also need to just end this stigma around asking for it. It shouldn’t be this hard.”