Published February 24, 2019 / Updated August 7, 2020


I got all my sisters with me

by Susan E. Stutz

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Rebenke — Snow White Burton

No matter what our own families look like, there are commonalities between us: we all want happy homes, healthy bodies, and the means with which to provide both. To that end, many of us have relied on our employers to provide affordable health insurance and time off, with or without pay.

That was then

Historically speaking, taking significant time off from work was risky business. Topping the list of negative consequences is the possibility that our jobs would not be waiting for us when we returned and our inability to meet the financial needs of the family while taking time off. These risks sent many of us back to our jobs instead of being with our loved ones. Countless women returned to work immediately following the birth of a child despite the need to heal. Their partners often took no time off at all, robbing from both parents, the opportunity to bond with the newest member of their family. And, many of us took minimal time off to heal from an injury or surgery, placing ourselves at even greater risk.

The 1993 enactment of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)— which provided employees with 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave — alleviated the job security issue for those of us who were lucky enough to work for companies governed by the requirements of the Act. However, FMLA did nothing to address the financial tightrope we walked or the millions of low-income and part-time employees for whom the Act did not apply. Twenty-five years later, our family units have become larger and more diverse, health insurance costs have reached hitherto unknown heights, and leave without pay is a luxury that almost no one can afford.

This is now

Enter the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, (H.R. 1185/S. 463) reintroduced by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in September, 2018. The FAMILY Acts most important goal is to provide a pot of money from which employees of all types will be able to draw up to 66% of their normal wages when taking extended time off from work. Among the Acts greatest features is that it won’t just apply to those fortunate enough to work for larger companies, but will also include the tens of millions of workers across the country who cannot have a single day off with pay, much less any extended period of time without. It also applies to those companies and employees who are in the private sector, as well as those entities that are below the 1993 Act’s threshold for required compliance.

How it works

When discussing any type of financial benefit for the populace, the concern is always funding. Well, the FAMILY Act has the answer. By contributing two cents per $10 of wages (or roughly $2.00 per week), employees and employers create a responsible funding source administered by the Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave (an office to be created by the proposed legislation) from which the insurance and administrative costs will be drawn. Employees seeking time off under the Act will draw from the fund while on leave. As any of us can attest to, a steady stream of income while dealing with life’s inevitabilities does wonders for our ability to cope with whatever life throws at us.

High hopes for the future

If enacted, this legislation has the potential to greatly reduce the number of families that find themselves poverty-stricken as a result of taking time off from work. Additionally, by placing financial burdens lower on the list of considerations when deciding whether or not time away from work, families are able to focus on the situation at hand without the extra pressure financial worries bring. This legislation can give families the comfort of a steady income during time off we need when facing some of life’s greatest joys and challenges.

States like California, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have already enacted state-level paid-leave legislation and seen signs of its success. Washington state, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia will be rolling out similar legislation in 2019 and 2020.

What you can do

The FAMILY Act is with the House Ways and Means Committee, the members of which are as follows:

Democratic Members: Richard Neal, Chair (D-MA, 1st District), John Lewis (D-GA, 5th District), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX, 35th District), Mike Thompson (D-CA, 1st District), John Larson (D-CT, 1st District), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR, 3rd District), Ron Kind (D-WI, 3rd District), Bill Pascrell (D-NJ, 9th District), Danny Davis (D-IL, 7th District), Linda Sanchez (D-CA, 38th District), Brian Higgins (D-NY, 26th District), Terri Sewell (D-AL, 7th District), Suzan DelBene (D-WA, 1st District), Judy Chu (D-CA, 27th District), Gwen Moore (D-WI, 4th District), Dan Kildee (D-MI, 5th District), Brendan Boyle (D-PA, 2nd District), Don Beyer (D-VA, 8th District), Dwight Evans (D-PA, 3rd District), Brad Schneider (D-IL, 10th District), Tom Suozzi (D-NY, 3rd District), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA, 20th District), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL, 7th District), Jimmy Gomez (D-CA, 34th District), and Steven Horsford (D-NV, 4th District).

Republican Members: Kevin Brady, Ranking Member (R-TX, 8th District), Devin Nunes (R-CA, 22nd District), Vern Buchanan (R-FL, 16th District), Adrian Smith (R-NE, 3rd District), Kenny Marchant (R-TX, 24th District), Tom Reed (R-NY, 23rd District), Mike Kelly (R-PA, 16th District), George Holding (R-NC, 2nd District), Jason Smith (R-MO, 8th District), Tom Rice (R-SC, 7th District), David Schweikert (R-AZ, 6th District), Jackie Walorski (R-IN, 2nd District), Darin LaHood (R-IL, 18th District), Brad Wenstrup (R-OH, 2nd District), Jodey Arrington (R-TX, 19th District), Drew Ferguson (R-GA, 3rd District), and Ron Estes (R-KS, 4th District).

If you live in the district of any of these representatives, send HOUSE to Resistbot and encourage them to support this measure. If you live elsewhere, write to your Representative and encourage them to support their colleagues and this legislation. And, as always, you can write to Congress about this or any other topic by sending the word Resist to Resistbot on Facebook Messenger, Telegram, or as a Twitter direct message. If none of those work for you, Resistbot also supports old fashioned SMS: text RESIST to 50409 to get started. It takes 2 minutes to make a difference.

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