Calls grow for national paid family leave amid pandemic
Momentum is building behind the paid family leave movement as more corporations and public officials embrace the policy amid the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 190 American companies urged Congress in a letter on Tuesday to pass the policy in the next spending package, while President Biden addressed the need to improve the country’s “care infrastructure” in his infrastructure plan revealed on Monday.
Advocates say the pandemic has increased the urgency to pass a paid family leave plan as parents juggle working and staying at home with children or try to arrange child care as they go into work.
“For parents who do have the ability to work from home, it is still nearly impossible,” said Dawn Huckelbridge, the director of Paid Leave for All. “Think about all of the front-line workers who don’t have the ability to work from home, who don’t have in-person school, who aren’t able to access child care.”
“They’re being forced to choose between a paycheck and putting food on the table,” she added.
Fifteen states, including the District of Columbia, have passed laws requiring employers to offer paid leave to their employees. However, the letter to Congress from the group of companies said that less than 21 percent of Americans reported having access to paid family or maternity leave through their employers, citing a 2020 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A number of major companies in the U.S. already offer some sort of a paid family leave program, including Netflix, Deloitte, and Johnson & Johnson.
However, business advocates say it gets difficult for these corporations when they have to deal with the varying state laws addressing paid family leave.
“Certainly from the standpoint of the large companies who are already offering this benefit and are having a lot of problems with the state programs, getting a system in place like what we talk about would smooth out their operations and allow them to reduce the inefficiencies and literally allow them to put more resources back into the benefits,” said Marc Freedman, vice president of employment policy at the Chamber of Commerce.
The issue has impacted women, in particular, who in many cases have been forced to juggle motherhood with altered working conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We see so much of the burden of what has happened during the pandemic has fallen on women overwhelmingly,” said Betsy Fischer Martin, the executive director of American University’s Women in Politics Institute.
According to a Gender on the Ballot survey released last week by American University’s School of Public Affairs and conducted by Benenson Strategy Group, 1 in 2 working moms reported struggling handling work and virtual schooling for their children.
The same poll found that roughly 80 percent of women surveyed said they support better sick and maternity leave policies.
The issue also has broad support from Republicans. Trump was the first Republican president to call for paid family leave, throwing his support behind bipartisan legislation introduced by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) in late 2019. However, under that legislation, parents had the option to advance up to $5,000 of their child tax credits in the year of the birth or adoption of a child. Then in return, parents would get a reduction in the amount of their child tax credits in each of the following 10 years. Unlike the Biden proposal, this one did not have a new source of funding.
A poll from the left-leaning Center for American Progress released earlier this month found that 58 percent of Republicans, 68 percent of independents, and 86 percent of Democrats said it was time for the U.S. to adopt a national paid family leave and medical leave program.
“Poll after poll after poll, every survey shows wide support across a lot of different lines that we normally might point to and say, ‘Well, this is where the division is,’” Jocelyn Frye, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told The Hill. “Republicans and Democrats support it. There are people in business who support paid leave. This crosses racial and ethnic boundaries, and it’s true across economic boundaries.”
Biden pledged on the 2020 campaign trail to pass universal paid sick days and 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. The plan would create 2 million new jobs per year and generate $22.5 billion in economic activity every year, according to an economic analysis from the advocacy group Time’s Up.
Two of the coronavirus packages that were already signed into law have included paid family and medical leave for some workers at a reduced pay rate.
However, the measure’s inclusion in the president’s infrastructure plan is the boldest move yet on the issue from the administration.
There has been long-standing bipartisan support in Washington for revamping the U.S. infrastructure, focusing on improving the country’s roads, bridges, rail lines and waterworks.
Biden’s allies say that by including programs such as national paid family leave, expanded access to community colleges and pre-kindergarten programs, the plan is addressing family infrastructure.
But there is still skepticism about whether including these measures in an infrastructure package will help bolster the effort on Capitol Hill, especially when Republicans complained about nonrelated programs being included in the American Rescue Plan.
“The more you try and load that bill up like a Christmas tree, the harder it actually gets to pass it as an infrastructure bill,” said Glenn Spencer, senior vice president of the employment policy division at the Chamber of Commerce. “Everybody can find something in it they don’t like and object to.”
On top of that, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that Republicans would not back any tax hikes as a means to pay for Biden’s plan.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any enthusiasm on our side for a tax increase,” McConnell said at a press conference.
The minority leader also referred to the plan as a “Trojan horse,” predicting that Democrats will pack many of their priorities into the legislation.
“The infrastructure concept is strong,” Freedman said. “But let’s face it: That issue has not moved like a lot of people thought it would move previously.”