Progressives push back on decision to shrink Biden’s paid family leave program

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) speaks to reporters during a vote regarding a nomination on Thursday, July 22, 2021.
Greg Nash

Progressive Democrats in the Senate and House are pushing back against a preliminary decision by President Biden and Democratic leaders to significantly cut funding for a national family paid leave program from the budget reconciliation bill.

A group of 15 Senate Democrats led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday sent a letter to Biden, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urging them to include a more robust family and medical paid leave program in the legislation.

“We urge you to include a national paid leave program that is meaningful, comprehensive and permanent in the Build Back Better Act. It must be universal to cover all workers, provide progressive wage replacement to help the lowest wage earners, and cover all existing types of leave with parity,” the senators wrote.

The letter was also signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

It comes a day after Biden informed liberal Democrats at a White House meeting Wednesday that the emerging legislation will only provide four weeks of paid leave benefits instead of the 12 weeks initially discussed by lawmakers.

The program is also expected to be means tested to be limited to lower-income families. 

This proposed cut isn’t sitting well with Democratic senators who argue that funding a generous national paid leave program will boost the economy and address what they say is a child care crisis.

“Paid leave is a critical policy to improve the economic security of families, support businesses, and increase economic growth,” they wrote.

“The pandemic has exposed an acute emergency on top of an ongoing, chronic caregiving crisis for working people and employers alike. We cannot emerge from this crisis and remain one of the only countries in the world with no form of national paid leave. Now is the time to make a bold and robust investment in our nation’s working families,” they argued.  

The group says a national paid leave program must cover “all workers” because “at one point or another, nearly everyone will need to take leave from work to give or receive care, whether it’s to welcome a new child, be there for an aging parent or loved one, or to recover from their own major surgery, serious illness like cancer or substance use disorders.” 

More than 100 House Democrats wrote a letter to Biden Tuesday expressing “our support for maintaining robust paid family and medical leave in the final reconciliation package.” 

The lawmakers pointed out that only 23 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave and most of them can’t even afford to take it.

They wrote that workers with paid leave are disproportionately the higher-paid employees at large companies and that Black and Latino workers are likely not to have access to the benefit. 

“Creating a universal paid leave program will lessen some of these racial and economic inequalities,” they wrote.

The House letter was led by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and signed by House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), among others. 

Tags Alex Padilla Amy Klobuchar Ayanna Pressley Ben Cardin Charles Schumer Cory Booker Dick Durbin Elizabeth Warren Jacky Rosen Jeanne Shaheen Joe Biden Kirsten Gillibrand Maggie Hassan Mazie Hirono Nancy Pelosi Rosa DeLauro Tammy Baldwin Tammy Duckworth Tina Smith

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