The country is more than ready for national paid leave, but the details matter

The country is more than ready for national paid leave, but the details matter
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It was 25 years ago this week that President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonDemocratic Rep. Mondaire Jones calls on Breyer to retire Modern biomedical breakthroughs require a federal ethics commission Biden must compel China and Russia to act on climate MORE signed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) into law. It was the country’s first national law designed to help people meet the dual demands of work and family. 

In the years since, workers have used the leave it provides more than 200 million times to welcome a child, recover from illness or care for a seriously ill family member.  

The FMLA changed our country forever, codifying the basic fact that both male and female workers have family caregiving responsibilities, sending the message that family values matter to us, and demonstrating unequivocally that family friendly policies are good for businesses and our economy. It was a giant step forward for gender equality in this country at the time, defeating stereotypes that had long held back women in the workplace.

But we always expected the FMLA to be just a first step and, all these years later, we still haven’t taken another — and that’s causing immeasurable harm to workers, families, communities, businesses, our economy and our country.


For all the good the FMLA has done, it covers only about three in five workers, leaving behind millions of people with part-time jobs, people who are paid low wages, younger women and women of color – and, of course, every working person who cannot afford to take the unpaid leave the law provides.

It’s time to take the next step by adopting a comprehensive national paid family and medical leave program. There’s proof now that paid family and medical leave works. California’s been providing it, through its successful state program, for more than a decade.


New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York state also have paid family and medical leave programs in place, Washington state and the District of Columbia will too, very soon.

Hundreds of companies are leading the way, including Facebook, Microsoft, Deloitte, Exelon and Choice Hotels, which have leading parental or family leave policies for their own employees. Companies like Adobe, Levi Strauss, Patagonia, Eileen Fisher and 100 others also have great policies for their own workers — and they have gone even further by endorsing a strong public policy.

But making progress state by state, company by company, leaves too many working people – and too many families — behind. It shortchanges businesses, our economy and our country. It allows pernicious gender-based stereotypes to linger. It perpetuates the economic and health inequities that cause so much harm today and threaten the next generation tomorrow.

Our nation is more than ready for a comprehensive, inclusive national paid leave program that covers all working people who need leave for the full range of serious caregiving and medical reasons. Voters, the business community and lawmakers — on both sides of political aisle —know it.

However, the details matter and not just any paid leave plan will do.

A tax credit to employers just exacerbates the boss lottery, in which some workers win and others lose.

Asking people to borrow from their retirements – their Social Security funds – to take family and medical leave would harm retirees today and devastate workers tomorrow.

A parental leave-only plan would exclude three in four people who take leave because they are facing a serious health issue or caring for a seriously ill family member – and that kind of plan would fall even further short in the future, as the population ages and caregiving needs grow.

That’s why we are urging Congress to pass the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandIntelligence leaders warn of threats from China, domestic terrorism Jon Stewart accuses VA of being 'an obstacle' to burn pits medical care Family policy that could appeal to the right and the left MORE (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa DeLauroBiden looks to bolster long-term research and development Democratic senators call on Biden to support waiving vaccine patents House passes bill to combat gender pay gap MORE (D-Conn.).

It would create a national insurance program, similar to those in the states, that is funded through small employer and employee contributions of 0.2 percent each (less than $1.50 per week each for a typical worker) and allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of leave for serious family or medical reasons while receiving a portion of their pay.

Every day Congress doesn’t act —every day the FAMILY Act is not law — is a day when Congress is forcing working people to make impossible choices between their families and their economic security — a day when Congress is letting families, businesses, our economy and our country suffer — a day when Congress is trying to halt women’s march toward equality.

At this moment when women and men are joining together to say #TIMESUP on policies and practices that hold women back, we will not be denied. And 25 years after the FMLA became law, the time for stalling is over.

Debra L. Ness is president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, the organization that draft and led the fight to pass the Family and Medical Leave Act and is now leading the fight for a national paid family and medical leave law.