'Inexcusable': Democrats draw heat from paid leave advocates

'Inexcusable': Democrats draw heat from paid leave advocates
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President BidenJoe BidenBiden and Harris host 'family' Hanukkah celebration with more than 150 guests Symone Sanders to leave the White House at the end of the year Overnight Defense & National Security — Senate looks to break defense bill stalemate MORE and Democrats in Congress are catching heat from advocacy groups for dropping paid family and medical leave from a proposed framework for the party’s massive social spending plan. 

Paid leave was among the most notable cuts in the revised proposal Biden unveiled on Thursday, a day after sources said the measure would be axed amid opposition from Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOn The Money — Powell, Yellen face pressure on inflation Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Dems seek to preserve climate provisions Democrats wrangle to keep climate priorities in spending bill  MORE (D-W.Va.).

“The omission of paid family and medical leave from a package aiming to Build Back Better from a global pandemic and care crisis would be a devastating outcome for the millions of workers who are being asked to choose between their health, paychecks and caregiving every day,” Paid Leave for All said in a statement.

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“Until the Build Back Better framework is final, and the ink dries on the legislation, we will continue to fight for a robust, comprehensive paid family leave program. 55 million caregivers’ livelihoods are at stake,” Josephine Kalipeni, executive director of Family Values @ Work, said.

“We refuse to believe that President Biden would break his campaign promise to pass comprehensive paid family and medical leave,” she added.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, paid family leave was accessible for less than a quarter of civilian workers in March 2021. Data reviewed by the agency in March 2020 also found 78 percent of civilian workers had access to paid sick leave benefits.

Biden’s initial paid leave proposal would have provided access for paid family and medical leave on a sliding scale for workers for up to 12 weeks.

But as the party has worked to reduce the original multitrillion-dollar price tag amid resistance from moderates over its costs, the paid leave proposal, and others like tuition-free community college and climate measures, have been scaled back or nixed altogether. 

In the framework unveiled by the White House on Thursday, proposals for free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds, as well as funding for affordable child care remained intact.

A number of Democrats and advocates have pushed for those measures along with the proposed paid leave program to help boost women’s participation in the workforce, as hundreds of thousands have left the labor market during the pandemic. 

Shaunna Thomas, executive director of UltraViolet, a national gender justice advocacy group, praised the funding proposed for child care and preschool, as well as the child tax credits, affordable housing, among other measures.

“Because of this work, we have a strong framework proposal that makes a life-changing down payment for women, families, climate, and healthcare,” she said. But Thomas added that, despite those policies, the “exclusion of a paid leave policy is inexcusable.” 

“The president promised to provide universal paid leave on the campaign trail. Women voted in droves in support of that policy. This absence hurts Black women in particular, who disproportionately work jobs that do not provide paid leave,” she said.

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Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director and CEO of MomsRising, also lauded what she called “significant investments toward building the care infrastructure moms, families, businesses and our economy urgently need.”

“That said, the exclusion of paid family/medical leave is a deep and bitter disappointment that lawmakers simply must correct immediately,” she added in a statement. “As we celebrate the tremendous gains this package contains, we resolve to continue fighting for the unfinished business of building a strong, durable care infrastructure that includes comprehensive paid family/medical leave.”

Last week, Biden said his paid leave proposal had shrunk from 12 weeks to four amid reports of opposition to the program by Manchin, a key centrist holdout in the evenly split Senate. But reports later indicated Manchin, who has said little publicly about his resistance to the program, also wasn’t on board with the four-week proposal.

While the paid leave pitch is currently expected to be cut from the final package, a number of Democrats have said they intend to continue fighting for its inclusion. Advocates also say they plan to do the same until the bill is signed. 

As Democrats work quickly to finalize the plan, Biden lauded the package as “historic” for its investments in areas like health care, child care, family care and clean energy, but conceded some are unhappy with the concessions made along the way. 

“No one got everything they wanted, including me, but that’s what compromise is, that’s consensus, and that’s what I ran on,” Biden said.