Read the latest from the Support Paid Leave blog – a collection of posts written by coalition partners.

By Vicki Shabo

With recent attention to the country’s dismal record of making paid leave available to workers, and growing consensus around the need for a national solution, it’s easy to forget the decades of work and milestone victories that have made this moment possible. One of the first happened 15 years ago this week, when California created the nation’s first state paid family leave program. Since then, California has twice improved the program, and a third improvement awaits the governor’s signature. The state’s success has helped build a growing list of business leaders who support national paid leave, and paved the way for four states and the District of Columbia to enact similar programs. And our understanding of what a meaningful paid family and medical leave program must include has grown tremendously as a result.

As the home of 10 percent of the U.S. population and the most diverse state in the nation, California is a valuable case study in how paid leave can and has worked at the state level. Its law created a paid family leave insurance program that built on the state’s temporary disability insurance system. The program enables eligible workers to take up to six weeks of partially paid leave to bond with a newborn, newly adopted or newly placed foster child, or to care for a family member with a serious health condition. Here’s just some of what it has taught us so far:

  1. Paid family leave is reasonable and used as intended. As of June 2017, California’s program had been used nearly 2.7 million times by people who needed leave to care for a new child or seriously ill family member. And of the state’s 14 million private sector workers, fewer than 2 percent applied for leave through the program in the past year, which suggests people are requesting leave appropriately. The California Society for Human Resource Management, a group of human resources professionals that initially opposed the law, has said the program is less onerous than expected and few businesses report challenges associated with employees taking leave.
  2. Paid family leave results in more equitable leave-taking. California’s program has reduced disparities across race and gender. Before the program was in place, Black mothers in the state took, on average, just one week of maternity leave while white mothers took four weeks. Now, Black women take an average of six weeks — the same amount as white women. And the average for all new mothers has doubled from three weeks to six weeks. The number of fathers requesting leave has grown especially dramatically — by 400 percent in the program’s first seven years alone. Today, men make nearly 40 percent of parental leave requests.
  3. Paid family leave helps employers, in addition to workers and families. The vast majority of California employers report that the state’s paid family leave law has had a positive or no noticeable effect on profitability and employee productivity and performance. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees in particular say it has had a positive or neutral effect on profitability, productivity and employee morale. The same survey revealed that three in five California employers report coordinating their paid leave policies with the state’s insurance program, likely resulting in cost savings.
  4. Paid family leave must reflect the diversity of families and care needs today. In addition to demonstrating that providing gender-neutral access to paid leave has a significantly positive effect on the number of men who take leave and provide care, California’s program has also taught us that even more family members need and provide care today. In 2013, after it became clear that the program was not adequately meeting the state’s family caregiving needs, lawmakers expanded it to include grandparents, grandchildren, siblings and parents-in-law as family members for whom people can take leave.
  5. Paid family leave must adequately protect workers’ wages and jobs. In 2016, after studies showed that many lower-wage workers couldn’t afford to use California’s program, and even higher-wage workers said affordability was an issue, the state increased the wage replacement rate from 55 percent to 70 percent for low-income workers and to 60 percent for higher-income workers. And earlier this month, because only people who work for employers with 50 or more employees have job protection under the law — meaning they are entitled to the same or an equivalent job when returning from leave — the legislature passed a bill to extend that protection to new parents who work for smaller employers. Gov. Brown has until Oct. 15 to sign the measure.

Many of the states and municipalities that have established paid leave programs and policies in the years following California’s law have applied these lessons by not only prioritizing the issue, but also by enacting broader definitions of “family,” providing more progressive wage replacement, and taking steps to provide job protection for more workers. The most recent states to act, New York and Washington, have gone a step further to provide more weeks of leave. These programs are building on the successes and challenges experienced in California, further refining what a strong paid leave policy looks like.

As the national conversation about paid leave continues, lawmakers should pay close attention to the years of research and policy testing that has been happening in California, other states and municipalities, and within the private sector. There are valuable lessons to be learned about what works, and the details matter tremendously. The nation needs a smart program that builds on these lessons and checks all the boxes. Right now, the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act is the only federal proposal that does so. Its passage should be the country’s next paid leave milestone.

15 Years, Five Key Lessons: California Continues to Lead the Nation Toward Paid Leave for All was originally published in Support Paid Leave on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

By Sarah Fleisch Fink

As many federal lawmakers were focused on rolling back and undermining the rights of people across the country this year, some state lawmakers considered bills aimed at helping people — specifically, measures that would guarantee access to paid sick time and paid leave. Paid sick days policies enable working people to take fully paid time off to recover from common short-term illnesses or health issues, such as the flu, or for preventive care. Paid family and medical leave or “paid leave” policies enable people to take longer periods of time — partially or fully paid — for a personal serious medical condition or to care for a new child or a family member with a serious health condition.

In a testament to the popularity and demand for these policies and tireless advocacy efforts, lawmakers introduced paid sick days bills in 19 states and paid family and medical leave bills in 31 states this year, and some states considered more than one bill. Currently, only seven states and the District of Columbia have, or will soon have, paid sick days laws in place and just five states and the District of Columbia have or will soon establish paid family and medical leave programs. As legislators and advocates prepare for 2018, here are the best and worst developments of 2017.

The Good.

Providing a Sufficient Amount of Leave. Twenty-three paid sick days bills introduced in 2017 would allow workers to accrue five or more days of sick time, which is in line with the majority of paid sick days laws across the country. For example, both the Maryland bill that was sent to the governor and the Rhode Island bill that passed the Senate allowed for a maximum of five days. Additionally, 22 paid leave bills provided for at least 12 weeks of leave, which is in line with New York’s groundbreaking paid family leave law that passed in 2016. This includes Washington state’s 2017 paid leave victory, which raised the bar by providing up to 16 weeks of combined paid family and medical leave, and up to 18 weeks under some circumstances.

Making Paid Leave Affordable for Low-Income Workers. Several state paid leave bills in 2017 had progressive wage replacement structures — a trend seen in 2016, including in D.C.’s paid leave law. “Progressive wage replacement” means that workers who are paid less have a greater portion of their income replaced when they take leave, compared to higher wage workers, which makes paid leave more accessible to people who most need the financial stability paid leave provides. For example, Washington state’s new law includes a progressive wage replacement structure in which lower-wage workers receive 90 percent of their wages while on leave. Again, this will mean that more lower-wage workers will be able to take the leave they need.

Recognizing the Diversity of Family Relationships. The definition of “family” in paid sick days bills this year extended beyond child, parent or spouse to include grandparents, grandchildren and siblings — whether biological, foster, adoptive, step, half or in-law — as well as domestic partners, guardians and those for whom the employee acts as a parent. Minnesota’s paid sick days bill also allowed employees to care for anyone with whom they have “the equivalent of a family relationship,” and up to one person designated annually. Similarly, Hawaii’s paid family leave bill enabled workers to select a “designated person” for whom they could take leave, regardless of a legal or blood relationship. Although many caregiving relationships continue to be left out, there is movement in the right direction.

The Bad.

Not Covering All of the Reasons People Need Paid Leave. Most paid leave bills this year covered leave for family care, one’s own serious health condition and the arrival of a new child, but some, such as Oklahoma’s bill, left out personal medical leave. Others, including bills in South Dakota and Texas, were even less inclusive because they did not include comprehensive family care leave and instead only provided for parental leave. These limitations disadvantage the majority of people who need paid family and medical leave, such as those with disabilities and those who do not intend to have children. When more than 75 percent of people who take unpaid family and medical leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act each year do so for family caregiving and medical reasons, that means millions are left behind.

Offering Harmful and Illusory Paid Leave Solutions. Although the increased interest in paid leave policies — evidenced by the number of bills introduced in 2017 — is encouraging, lawmakers in some states, such as Arkansas and Nevada, introduced inadequate measures that would not have meaningfully improved people’s access to paid family and medical leave. These include proposals that would give tax credits to employers that offer paid leave, which would most benefit those employers who already offer it, and proposals to create tax-deductible savings accounts for workers to use for their caregiving needs, which would not help people who do not have income to set aside or who face unanticipated caregiving needs.

The Ugly.

Discriminating Between Parental Caregivers. Again, parental-leave-only paid leave proposals are insufficient and leave too many people behind. They are even more harmful if they do not provide the same amount of leave to all parents. Most of this year’s paid parental leave bills did offer leave to all new parents, but some fell far short. For example, an Arkansas bill to provide paid leave to state government employees, as introduced, would have only provided time to female employees for the birth or adoption of a new child. Such exclusions reflect antiquated ideas about gender and caregiving roles, disregard the growing number of fathers who want to care for their new children, ignore the needs and experiences of same-sex parents, and exacerbate gender inequality.

Excluding People Who Work for Smaller Businesses. Paid sick days bills in Nevada, Hawaii, South Dakota and Maine only provided paid sick time to workers in businesses with 50 or more employees, even though people who work for smaller businesses have the same need for paid sick days as those who work for larger businesses. Many businesses with 50 or fewer employees also operate within the restaurant, child care and other industries that require public contact. A few paid leave bills left out smaller businesses too. These bills perpetuate inequities and fail to account for workers who move between small and large employers, and businesses that move above and below the size threshold. Every existing state paid leave program covers employers of all sizes.

As the momentum around paid sick days and paid family and medical leave policies continues, advocates and lawmakers should take note of the most promising paths and dangerous pitfalls in the current policy landscape. The bills introduced this year are a good indication of the opportunities and challenges ahead, and the details matter tremendously. Pursuing sound, responsible policies designed to satisfy the needs of all working people, businesses and our economy by building on the successes and lessons learned through existing policies must be a top priority. Families and communities across the country deserve no less.

Alex Baptiste and Vasu Reddy, policy counsels at the National Partnership, contributed to this post.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Paid Sick Days and Paid Leave in the States in 2017 was originally published in Support Paid Leave on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

One of my most emotionally potent childhood memories is of a video of my father reading a book to my brother and me as young children. Almost 30 years later, I remember I used to sit and cry watching the video because my dad was so far away. My father was in the Navy and gone for most of my childhood: out to sea or deployed to a number of different bases around the world.

Because of my own experience, I have always wanted to be as present and involved as possible in my children’s lives. Almost eight months ago, my wife Andrea and I were blessed with the birth of our daughter Maya. Thankfully, my employer truly values family time, and I was able to take two months of paid parental leave, and to extend my time off for an additional month using vacation time. People in my community — and elsewhere in the United States — are not as lucky. Frankly, paid parental leave should never be a matter of luck.

I am a rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Austin, Texas, which is a member congregation of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). For many years, the URJ has staunchly advocated for social justice for all — for women, members of the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, and people from all faiths and backgrounds who lack basic civil and human rights. In 2015, the Reform Movement passed a resolution advocating for paid family leave, which refers to time away from one’s job, often of extended duration, with full or partial pay, to attend to the birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child, as well as to address a serious personal illness, or the serious illness of a family member.

As a rabbi in the Reform Movement, I am also a member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), which also takes a progressive position on paid family leave. In the most recent handbook for placement of newly ordained rabbis the CCAR states:

“Given Judaism’s traditional commitment to the family, congregations should gladly support the decision of rabbis to raise a family. Fathers, as well as mothers, should be afforded every opportunity to devote themselves to parenting. Therefore, congregations should grant at least a two-month parental leave at full pay for their rabbis. Parental leave should apply to all rabbis regardless of marital status, gender, or sexual orientation. This applies to adoptive parents as well.”

After Maya was born, Andrea and I coordinated our leave time so that we were able to spend the first two weeks of Maya’s life together as a family. Then Andrea took the rest of her leave (which she, unlike too many new moms, was lucky to have). When she went back to work, I resumed my leave.

This solo time with Maya was simultaneously one of the most meaningful and most exhausting times of my life. When babies are so young, and you have the chance to spend all day with them for three consecutive months, you literally get to watch them grow. I look back now at the pictures I took during my time off with her and it is absolutely amazing how much she changed over that three-month period. I got to experience her first laughs, her first babbling.

I tried to get out of the house as often as we could so that Maya would be able to experience as much as possible, and so that I wouldn’t go stir crazy at home. We went to Central Market, to the Austin Zoo, to Books and Babies at the Austin Library and to our local park. In all these places, I could see her brain and her world expand — colors at the market, fascinating faces of people and animals at the zoo, singing and music at the library, and bugs and flowers at the park. I loved carrying her in her front carrier while she slept and then seeing her wake up to take in the world after each nap.

One thing I noticed most places we would go is that I was often the only solo father with his child. Every now and again, there was another dad, but it was rare, and usually he would be there with the baby’s mom.

I pray that one day our society will truly learn to see value in this incredibly important family time. If we had a system that guaranteed paid leave, perhaps we would see more dads and babies at the grocery store, the library, the park, or the zoo; more fathers able to bond with their children during the first few, formative months of their lives.

I hope that day isn’t far off, because all of us are better when we have time to care.

A Prayer for America’s Families and Our Society was originally published in Support Paid Leave on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

A Prayer for America’s Families and Our Society

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One week.

That is how much paternity leave my father’s company offered him when my parents were preparing to welcome me into the world. He then cobbled together another week of vacation time so he could bond with me as a newborn and help my mom. My mom worked at the same company and had access to six weeks of maternity leave and one week of vacation time, which she used to extend her maternity leave. It is astounding to realize that they were among the very lucky ones because then — like today — access to paid leave was rare.

Despite those challenges, my father was determined to be as involved as he could. My parents often recount how my dad ensured our house was stocked with a plethora of baby supplies, groceries and anything else my mom could possibly need while he was at work. He also made sure there was always a family member, usually my grandmother, on deck to take my mother to my well-baby visits if he was not able to work from home that day to attend himself. At the end of the day though, it all mostly fell on my mom (sound familiar?) and it took longer for my father to bond with me, since he was spending more time away. Being a parent to a newborn is hard. Even when you have done it before. Even when you have access to other supports that make the transition smoother.

Access to paid leave is one possible solution to addressing care challenges, but changing how we view who takes leave and gives care within our culture is just as important. In general, women are — and are seen — as the primary caregivers for ill family members, but we should not forget that more than 40 percent of family caregivers are men. Changing the way we think about who paid family and medical leave is for is paramount to achieving gender equity when it comes to childrearing and caregiving. Men want to be there not only when a new child is born but also to care for a parent battling a serious illness, or for their spouse’s surgery, or for an adult child with a chronic condition or for any other curveball life throws at them. Any federal paid leave program must be comprehensive to allow working people to address the full range of caregiving responsibilities. Fathers are caregivers who want and need to be there for their families, like my dad did and still does.

My family was blessed to have access to paid leave and other workplace supports, but paid paternity leave and paid family leave in general are still seriously lacking for the vast majority of America’s families. In fact, just 14 percent of workers have paid family leave through their jobs; only 9 percent of workers are at worksites where all employees have access to paid paternity leave. Workplaces still do not reflect working people’s need for flexibility and access to paid family leave for the important moments in life — moments that should not mean having to miss a paycheck or even losing a job.

And even though paid parental leave is essential for parents as they get to know their children, paid parental leave makes up less than one-quarter of the serious family and medical leave workers take each year. Children grow up and, in many cases, end up needing to provide care to their parents.

As the circle of life goes, one day my father may need care too. Right now, whether I would be able to provide that care depends on residing in one of the small number of states that have created paid family and medical leave insurance programs or having an employer that offers me paid leave. I hope I will not have to struggle to care for him as he ages, as he struggled to care for me when I entered into the world.

Earlier this year, members of Congress reintroduced the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which would create a nationwide paid family and medical leave program in the United States. The FAMILY Act would help parents bond with a new child, help sons and daughters care for a seriously ill or injured parent, and help everyone deal with their own serious health issues. It would provide 12 weeks of paid leave funded through small, shared payroll contributions. This program would allow families and individuals to be there when they are needed most without compromising their financial security. That peace of mind is priceless.

Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers and father figures out there doing the work. You are appreciated and essential today and every day.

*For more information on why fathers need paid family and medical leave, check out this fact sheet.

Choosing the Daddy Track: Being There is the Battle was originally published in Support Paid Leave on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Choosing the Daddy Track: Being There is the Battle

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The vast majority of Americans lack access to paid family and medical leave. In recent years, a few states — California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York (whose program will begin in 2018) — have created their own paid family leave programs to complement existing medical leave (temporary disability) programs. The District of Columbia also recently enacted a paid family and medical leave program scheduled to begin in 2019. But in all other 46 states, there is no public program, and most American workers do not have access to paid family or medical leave through their employer.1 In May 2017, the Trump Administration put forward a proposal in its budget request to provide six weeks of paid parental leave through the unemployment insurance system, starting in 2020. 2 This report analyzes the Trump proposal and its shortcomings. We find that the proposal:

 Omits many valuable types of caregiving and medical leave;

 Fails to provide dedicated federal funding, instead imposing an unfunded mandate on states to finance paid leave out of their unemployment insurance trust funds, which would likely harm unemployed workers in many states; and

 Would likely provide low benefit levels, posing particular challenges for lower-wage workers.

To read more, visit

Trump’s Paid Leave Plan: Pitting the Unemployed Against Working Families was originally published in Support Paid Leave on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The White House budget dispels any hopes Trump might keep his promise to extend a helping hand to the nation’s millions of small business workers with a family and medical leave act that works for them.

Instead, the Trump team hands American workers an empty envelope.

The percentage of Americans over age 65 is growing quickly. photo credit: pixabay

Small business owners had reasons to hope: since the campaign, rumors have swirled the president might support a federal paid leave program. Candidate Trump had endorsed a call by his daughter Ivanka, who paints herself as an empathetic business owner, mother of three, and tuned-in working woman, to enact paid family leave.

Earlier this year, progressive lawmakers in the Senate also introduced the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. Small business owners cheered this proposal, which lays out a framework for a strong national paid leave program that meets the needs of small business owners and workers alike.

Trump’s budget does include paid family leave, but as analysts unpack the proposal, it has become increasingly clear that his plan, unlike the FAMILY Act, doesn’t work for small businesses, their employees, or their communities.

Here are the top five reasons Trump’s family leave plan doesn’t work.

1: Trump’s “family” leave doesn’t cover the whole family

Trump’s budget proposal only includes new mothers and fathers. By contrast, the FAMILY Act covers the diverse caregiving situations that most small business owners and their employees face during their career. This includes recovering from personal illness or taking care of a sick spouse, an aging parent, grandparent, domestic partner, or adult child.

For small business owners, especially sole proprietors, a universal federal paid family and medical leave policy can make or break their business if they or a loved one needs extended care.

2: Paid leave is not guaranteed for all who work

Trump’s plan fails to establish a nationwide standard for who qualifies for paid leave. It’s up to each state to decide eligibility, which is likely to be based on restrictive unemployment rules that are already on the books.

In order for paid family and medical leave to really work for Main Street small businesses, everyone who works should to have the ability to earn leave from work to care for their families or themselves without fear of losing their job or not being able to pay their bills.

Paid leave should be available in all businesses, regardless of size or sector, and to all workers, whether they work part-time, full-time, or are self-employed. And everybody should be able to access the same amount of leave time, regardless of gender.

3: The funding is shaky

To fund a federal leave policy, the FAMILY Act sets up a simple payroll tax that amounts to about $1.50 per week per employee — the price of a cup of coffee. Like Social Security, that money goes into a pooled insurance account that covers all workers who are paying into the pool, and the program is administered by a new paid leave office.

The White House’s proposal, however, puts the tab on states’ budgets, indicating that state unemployment insurance funds will cover the cost by cutting benefits or figuring out how to collect overpayments. In many states, those unemployment funds are already far short of the reserve amount.

Rather than establish definitive federal fund for paid leave, Trump passes the buck, pun intended, to taxpayers, shifting the burden to the states to figure out how to administer and pay for his policy.

4: Trump’s plan is neither clear nor straightforward

The majority of small business owners are not equipped to handle the time and expense of administering a paid family and medical leave plan. It’s essential that any federal plan be easy, efficient, and minimizes the responsibilities of small business owners.

The FAMILY Act outlines a national program that builds off existing, successful state models, with streamlined coordination and a central administrative office. The Trump plan, on the other hand, is about as comprehensive as one of his Tweets — a couple of broad strokes, no detail. The details are all left in the hands of the states, from their level of participation to eligibility, funding, benefits, administration, and protections for employees.

5: Trump’s plan doesn’t consider small business owners

Fundamentally, a paid family and medical leave plan that works for small businesses needs to do three things:

1) Level the playing field for small businesses to compete with larger companies when it comes to attracting and retaining employees.
2) Invest in the families and communities that support small businesses by strengthening basic living standards for everyone.
3) Provide a measure of security for small business owners who need to recover from an illness or care for a sick loved one.

Across the board, the paid leave plan outlined in Trump’s budget fails to meet these needs of small businesses.

Alternative Visions

The Washington think tanks American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and Brookings have released their own report on the issue, “Paid Family and Medical Leave: An issue whose time has come.” Touted as a bipartisan compromise plan, the AEI-Brookings Working Group on Paid Family Leave proposal only includes parental leave, falling far short of the inclusive and comprehensive policy American small business owners and workers need.

The FAMILY Act is the type of legislation that would help small business owners keep pace with the needs of today’s workforce. It proposes a national paid family and medical leave program that would level the playing field for small businesses to compete, reduce turnover costs, provide a critical measure to security for business owners themselves, and support local economies.

Meanwhile, the Trump plan — underfunded, restrictive, and lacking in detail — seems more like a political play for points than a serious plan to boost small business in America.

Main Street Alliance is a national network of small business coalitions working to build a new voice for small businesses on important public policy issues. Alliance small business owners share a vision of public policies that work for business owners, our employees, and the communities we serve.

Trump’s Family Leave: An Empty Envelope for American Workers was originally published in Support Paid Leave on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

By Vicki Shabo

For Mother’s Day this year, I had the honor of joining moms and women’s health advocates to speak at a congressional briefing on the policies mothers need. The event kicked off the March for Moms weekend and included the March of Dimes and two inspiring women — Timoria McQueen, a postpartum hemorrhage survivor turned maternal health advocate, and Jamie Zahlaway Belsito, a commissioner for Massachusetts’ Special Legislative Commission on Postpartum Depression.

Timoria’s and Jamie’s stories made a lasting impression on me as someone who works to advance family friendly policies that support moms and all working people, and I can’t stop thinking about them in light of the news about the Trump administration’s budget proposal. The plan includes dramatic changes to health care and a very limited paid leave policy that would only provide six weeks of leave to new parents so they can care for a newborn or adopted child. It would provide no time for people with serious health issues, including women with serious pregnancy-related conditions, like Timoria and Jamie.

Timoria’s pregnancy was normal, but after 27 hours of labor and the birth of her daughter, things took a drastic and life-threatening turn. Timoria started hemorrhaging and she watched her blood pressure drop and felt as if a heavy curtain was falling over her eyes. She survived, but a series of ineffective and even harmful mental health interventions followed as her body recovered. A year later, she was traumatized again when she suffered a miscarriage.

Jamie also had a miscarriage, which she was forced to endure at home because her local hospital was too understaffed to perform the necessary surgical procedure. The process lasted six weeks. Fortunately, her second pregnancy was successful, albeit stressful, but she ended up developing postpartum depression, just like at least one in nine women who give birth in the United States — a number that does not include depression associated with miscarriages.

These stories demonstrate the importance of access to quality maternity care, including mental health services. Shockingly, the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world and postpartum hemorrhage, other serious complications and postpartum depression are all too common. Some 600 women die of pregnancy-related causes each year, and pregnancy-related death disproportionately affects women of color.

The stories also make clear how essential access to paid medical leave is for new moms — a point too often missed in the paid leave policy debate, in which the focus tends to be on maternity leave. More than 75 percent of people who take unpaid family or medical leave annually under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) do so for family caregiving and medical reasons. These are people like Timoria and Jamie and their loved ones, who need time to receive and provide serious medical care.

And access to paid family and medical leave is rare. Just 14 percent of U.S. workers have paid family leave through their jobs, and fewer than 40 percent have access to personal medical leave through an employer’s temporary disability insurance program. A handful of states have paid family and medical leave programs, but nearly half of first-time moms do not take any paid leave for a child’s birth and nearly one-quarter of new moms are back at work within two weeks of giving birth.

The Trump administration’s new paid leave proposal offers only six weeks of paid leave to new parents — compared to the national standard of 12 weeks established by the FMLA — leaving behind many new moms and working people who need time to address their own serious health issues or to care for seriously ill or injured family members. It is a phony and reckless plan that puts the onus of providing paid leave on states while making cuts that will hurt women, families and communities.

The United States can — and must — do better for all moms and all working people. People should not have to suffer like Timoria and Jamie did because they do not have access to quality maternity care, postpartum care or paid family and medical leave. People should not have to fear that taking time away from work due to pregnancy or another serious health condition will lead to unemployment, financial insecurity, a new need for public assistance to survive, homelessness or worse.

Timoria and Jamie have inspired me, and all of us at the National Partnership for Women & Families, to remain vigilant in the fight for quality maternity care and comprehensive paid family and medical leave for all. America’s women and families deserve better than deep cuts and harmful proposals like the American Health Care Act and Trump’s paid leave plan. Investments in our care and the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act are what moms and many others truly need.

America’s Moms Deserve Better Than Policies That Leave Them Behind was originally published in Support Paid Leave on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The national call for paid leave is growing louder every day. It’s encouraging and inspiring to see the broad recognition — regardless of political affiliation, gender, age or geography — that the United States has a serious paid leave problem. Eighty-two percent of voters now say it’s important for the president and Congress to consider a federal paid family and medical leave law.

But too often, when we talk about paid leave, we think first about the fact that the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world without a paid maternity leave policy. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the issue pertains only to new moms or new parents, but the need for paid leave is universal, spanning all working people’s lives, including the lives of mothers. And it’s about more than welcoming a new child; it’s about caring for your other family members and your own health too.

Of course, there is a dire need for new parents to have access to paid leave. At the National Partnership for Women & Families, we hear stories all the time about expecting moms struggling to get the time they need. Samantha from Ohio, for example, went to work sick to save time for her maternity leave and the doctor’s visits she knew would spring up in her baby’s first year.

Similarly, Jennifer had to cobble together vacation and sick time to be able to take leave when her son was born, only to be forced to return to work earlier than her doctor advised. She was then nearly denied time off to seek help for postpartum depression. The experience led her to move her family to California, in part, because it is one of just three states in the country with a paid leave law (New York and Washington, D.C., recently approved laws too, but they aren’t in effect yet).

Despite the challenges they faced, both Samantha and Jennifer consider themselves lucky — and sadly, they’re right. Eighty-six percent of working people in the United States don’t have paid family leave through their jobs, and nearly one-quarter of new moms return to work within just two weeks of giving birth. Only 35 percent of working mothers are both eligible for and can actually afford to take the unpaid leave provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Those numbers alone are staggering, but again, there is more to the story than the care of new babies. Remember, “mother” is both a noun and a verb. Mothers also mother their spouses and partners, their adult children, and their own mothers. And sometimes mothers need mothering too. Yet more than 60 percent of U.S. workers don’t even have access to personal medical leave through an employer’s temporary disability insurance program to deal with their own serious illnesses.

So how are mothers supposed to become mothers, provide for their families as the key breadwinners and caregivers they are, or get the care they need throughout their lives without access to paid family and medical leave? For most, the answer is relying on the “boss lottery” and good will of an employer, cobbling together other types of leave, or even leaving the workforce altogether.

Take Terry from Tennessee, who had to trade shifts at work so she could be home during the day to care for her mother who was dying from cancer while still keeping a roof over the heads of her three small children. Or Barb in Wisconsin, who had to figure out how to stay afloat while taking unpaid family leave and exhausting her vacation and sick days to care for her dying father while arranging long-term care for her mother who was losing a battle to dementia.

Marisol from Virginia counts herself among the “lucky” ones because her employer allowed her to telework so she could help her mother recover from a stroke. She couldn’t afford to lose her job or full-time pay, but she also couldn’t imagine not caring for her mom. And Nanette from Florida says she would never have been able to pay bills and care for her daughter had she not had access to paid leave through her employer when she was undergoing breast cancer treatment and multiple surgeries.

Whether it’s recovering from childbirth, welcoming a new child, caring for a sick loved one or getting life-saving treatment, it’s simply unacceptable that millions of hardworking mothers and people across the country are forced to make impossible choices between their caregiving responsibilities and their financial security because they don’t have access to paid family and medical leave.

This Mother’s Day, I hope you’ll join me in calling on Congress to support mothers and all working people throughout their lives by passing the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. The FAMILY Act is the only federal paid leave proposal on the table that would create a comprehensive paid leave program to help people like Samantha, Jennifer, Terry, Barb, Nanette and the many others who have caregiving needs and responsibilities.

To learn more, visit

This Mother’s Day, Remember Mothers Need Paid Leave Throughout Their Lives was originally published in Support Paid Leave on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

After three decades of practice as an oncologist, I’ve seen what families go through to manage serious illnesses. Too often, patients must go it alone because their children, spouses or other relatives cannot be there with them for treatment and recovery — or at the end of their lives. As a California physician, though, I am fortunate to see something different — the positive impact that paid family leave has on both patients and their caregivers.

I remember all too well the case of Millicent, a 73-year-old feisty retired county hospital nurse who developed breast cancer and went through surgery, radiation and hormonal treatments. When her cancer recurred after several years, she chose to try chemotherapy. Her daughter, Kristina, also a nurse, applied for intermittent family leave so she could take her mother to her chemotherapy appointments and stay with her for a day or two after each treatment. Unfortunately, after several months it was apparent that the treatments failed to control Millicent’s cancer and she chose to join a hospice program rather than try additional treatment.

When it was clear that Millicent needed continuous care and did not have much time to live, Kristina applied for family leave to provide continuous care for her mother. Had Kristina not been there, Millicent would have been placed in a nursing home or would have had to hire home health aides, possibly at her own expense. And although she may have had a very well-qualified caregiver, the care she received would not have been as personal or customized to her individual needs and values. Kristina took exquisite care of her mother and also had the chance to share memories and stories that she could cherish. When Millicent died six weeks later, Kristina returned to work full time in her regular job, grateful that she had been able to have meaningful time with her mother during her final days.

Millicent and Kristina were fortunate to live in California, one of three states that currently provide family leave through affordable, sustainable and longstanding statewide programs. (The other two states are Rhode Island and New Jersey, and New York will join them next year.) These states are the exception — workers in 46 states are on their own to navigate treatment and care when serious medical needs arise and a loved one needs care.

Some individual companies offer paid family leave benefits to their employees, but most do not. Eight-six percent of workers in the United States do not have access to paid family leave through their employers, and more than 60 percent do not have paid medical leave through an employer’s temporary disability insurance policy.

For lower wage workers, access to paid family and medical leave is even more rare and financial needs more acute. Without this critical protection, workers struggle to work while ill or while family members who need their help are suffering. Shockingly, nearly one-quarter of new mothers return to their jobs within two weeks of giving birth. Most of them have low-paying positions and cannot afford to take unpaid time away from their jobs.

The United States is an outlier when it comes to paid family and medical leave, lagging far behind other high-wealth countries in ensuring working people can take time away from their jobs when a new child is born and when serious personal or family medical needs arise. We owe it to ourselves to support the establishment of federal and state family leave. We will all need it some day.

Access to paid leave should not vary by zip code, job or employer. The status quo costs working people, the loved ones who rely on them, businesses and our economy dearly. The costs of inaction are staggering.

America can do better. We need a national paid family and medical leave standard that is affordable, comprehensive and sustainable and meets working people’s needs. Congress must pass the Family And Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act), which would create such a program, without delay. We cannot afford to wait.

For My Patients, Family Caregiving Has Made All the Difference was originally published in Support Paid Leave on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

By Hannah Matthews and Liz Ben-Ishai

The United States is long overdue in embracing policies that would make it easier for working families to both do their jobs and care for their families. In his first speech to Congress, President Trump expressed his desire to make child care affordable and ensure new parents have access to paid family leave. Unfortunately, his campaign promises and proposals to-date do little to advance public policy in these areas and run counter to getting help to those who need it the most.

In the United States, just 14 percent of civilian workers have access to paid family leave to care for a new child or seriously ill family member — and only four percent of the lowest-income workers have access. While a growing number of states (now five) have passed paid family leave laws, workers in most of the country are often forced to choose between caring for their families and their economic security. Moreover, only about 60 percent of workers are eligible for unpaid, job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the only federal leave law. But of those parents who are eligible for FMLA, fewer than 40 percent can afford to go without pay while taking leave. In addition, just 38 percent of workers have access to medical leave to address their own serious health issues.

Parents everywhere struggle to pay the high costs of child care but none more than the lowest-income earners. On average, low-income parents who pay for child care spend 30 percent of their household budget on child care expenses, compared to just 7 percent for higher-income families. The vast majority of low-income families — 85 percent — who could qualify for federal child care assistance to help with the staggering costs of care get no help because state and federal governments have failed to invest sufficiently in the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), our country’s primary child care assistance program.

Trump’s plan would do little to address our policy failures for working families. In his address last night, Trump professed a desire to provide paid family leave for new parents. During his campaign, Trump proposed a plan that would offer too few weeks of leave and provide too little wage replacement to make the program viable for low-income families. It also left out other important caregiving and health needs of today’s working families; millions of workers need to be able to care for seriously ill family members (not just new babies) and recover from their own illnesses without risking their economic security. Trump also proposed a financing mechanism — relying on dollars from fraud in the unemployment insurance system — which would not only be insufficient to support the (already inadequate) proposal, but also raise numerous challenges for implementation.

Instead of this poorly designed approach, the president should support the recently introduced Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, a federal bill that proposes an inclusive policy modelled on successful state programs. It would enable workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave to bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill family member, or recover from their own serious illness. The program would be funded with small contributions from employers and employees, using a social insurance model that is particularly appealing to small businesses.

Trump’s child care proposal is no less flawed. His plan — the bulk of which is a tax deduction proposal for child care expenses — is inherently regressive with the largest benefits going to wealthy families. (This is within the context of a tax reform agenda that would even further advantage the wealthy and corporations and reduce government revenue for funding critical programs and services.) Because most low-income parents do not earn enough to have federal tax liability, they would not benefit at all from this part of the plan. The proposal includes other tax savings mechanisms that also advantage the wealthy and are virtually unusable for low-income families. To address the child care needs of low-income families, Trump’s plan offers a child care “rebate” for low-income families. The rebate would cover just a small share of child care expenses, less than 8 percent, and the size of the benefit would pale in comparison to what higher-income families would receive from other components of the proposal. Moreover, a rebate will not help low-income families pay unaffordable child care bills upfront.

Trump’s plan falls far short of addressing the critical problems of child care affordability and quality. Families need help affording child care. But paying for child care is only part of the problem. Tax strategies will do nothing to advance quality improvements necessary to ensure that children have access to enriching settings. Central to quality is the child care workforce, who despite the high costs of care, earn very low wages. The best way to help low- and moderate-income families and improve child care quality for all children is investing in CCDBG, which provides direct assistance to help families afford the high cost of child care. CCDBG also builds the quality of child care by providing funds to states for quality improvement activities, including monitoring compliance with critical health and safety standards, and for the training and professional development of child care and early childhood educators.

Investing in affordable child care and paid family and medical leave should be a national priority. Together, these critical supports for working families add up to a strategy that is good for children, families, employers, and our economy. Congress and the President should acknowledge the real challenges of working families and find solutions that help those most in need — and who have the most to gain.

President Trump Wants to Help Working Families, But Which Families? was originally published in Support Paid Leave on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.