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

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.

By Vicki Shabo

Despite an incredible, inspiring groundswell of activism all across the country, good days are rare right now. But last week, I took the main stage at the MAKERS Conference — a powerhouse gathering of women in tech, media, business, politics and more. I was there to premiere “A Long Five Years,” the National Partnership for Women & Families’ new ad on America’s paid leave crisis. In my talk following the screening, I urged the audience to take action on behalf of the more than 100 million working people in the United States who have no paid family leave. I asked the audience to demand bold action from lawmakers and from the companies they lead and patronize.

My talk was sandwiched — literally — between speakers discussing bold new actions companies are already taking. Sheryl Sandberg and Lori Goler preceded me to announce Facebook’s new family care policy, which adds six weeks of family care leave to its already generous paid parental leave plan. Trish Stroman from Boston Consulting Group followed me as part of the “Bold Initiatives” gender equality panel to share a report based on reviews of 250 company policies and interviews with 25 organizational leaders that shows paid family leave pays off.

Earlier in the day, back in Washington, D.C., a powerful group of more than 130 members of Congress signed their names as co-sponsors of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, a comprehensive, affordable national paid family and medical leave proposal. They were heeding the call of a large, diverse coalition of advocates and business leaders who know that America can and must do better when it comes to paid leave.

Professionally, the day was a much-needed refuge from the onslaught of harm and fear that has defined 2017 thus far. Since January 20, people who believe in equality, fairness, inclusion and justice have been in the fight of our lives. President Trump has nominated the most-anti-woman cabinet in history and we’re being pummeled every day by threats to women’s health and rights, to immigrants and refugees, to our planet, and to the liberties we all cherish.

Indeed, at the very moment that MAKERS participants were meant to be celebrating women’s accomplishments in science, technology, arts and sports — and to be inspired by the incredible talent assembled — Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced on the Senate floor for reading a letter by Coretta Scott King about the racist history of the country’s new attorney general.

Danger, it seems, is everywhere.

That’s why the conference was so special and so badly needed. It was a moment to re-center and re-fuel for the fights ahead. As someone who was blindsided by the election, demoralized by its implications for our future, and deflated by being forced to play defense 24/7, this MAKERS “moment” was a powerful, moving reminder of all that binds us — across experiences and accomplishments — across age, race, national origin, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and religion — across passions, talents and dreams.

MAKERS was about finding joy and meaning in the power of others, and applauding their excellence and impact. It provided a moment to appreciate women’s contributions to technology, music, corporate practices, sports, literature, policy and to our nation itself. And it was a powerful reminder of our mandate to protect our victories, to continue moving forward, and to keep going no matter the obstacles.

Experiences like the MAKERS Conference and the Women’s March remind us that we are all in this together and that we must keep challenging ourselves to build a collective force for resistance and change that is as vibrant as our communities and our country. We all have much to contribute and a responsibility to do so. And when we honor our diversity and lift each other up through one strong and united voice, we all do better.

In this new climate of division and intolerance, that’s what I try to remember every day. We must use the platforms we have — cultural, political, corporate and everything in between — to call out injustice, misogyny, racism and all the other horribles that threaten our work, our progress and our lives. We must never lose our focus on what’s good and right. And we must never, ever give up.

A sampling of support for a national paid leave policy is evident in the blog posts and statements here.

We’re In the Fight of Our Lives — But We’re In It Together was originally published in Support Paid Leave on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

As advocates, paid leave supporters and members of Congress celebrated the 24th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) this week, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) renewed their call for a strong federal paid family and medical leave program by reintroducing the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. Below is a sampling of this week’s efforts to recognize the FMLA and call for a comprehensive and affordable paid leave program like the FAMILY Act.

FAMILY Act Reintroduction

Thanks to the dedication and diligence of Sen. Gillibrand and Rep. DeLauro, and many National Work and Family Coalition partners (nearly 50 went on the record in support of the bill), the FAMILY Act was introduced with more than 130 congressional co-sponsors — a record number. This is a testament to continued and growing support for the bill.

Select Press Statements from Members of Congress

Select Press Statements from Advocates and Partners

#FMLA24 and the Call for Paid Leave

On Feb. 7, members of Congress and advocates used #FMLA24 to commemorate the positive impact of the FMLA and call for the next step: paid family and medical leave. Hundreds participated, reaching millions of Twitter users.

Select Blog Posts from Paid Leave Supporters and Advocates

Renewed Call for Federal Paid Leave on the Heels of the FMLA’s 24th Anniversary was originally published in Support Paid Leave on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

It’s hard to have a conversation about maternity or paternity leave and not compare the US with Europe, and for good reason as I described in a recent TEDx talk. One geography has some of the best paid leave policies and one has nothing at all. Yet, in the absence of a national paid leave policy, we see a growing number of US-based companies, local governments and even public schools taking it upon themselves to prioritize the issue and create a culture that values the balance of life and work without forcing their employees to choose one or the other.

Public Schools Offer Paid Leave

In March of 2016, IDEA Public Schools, a network of tuition-free Pre-K to 12th grade public schools serving more than 30,000 students in 51 schools across Texas, announced they were going to offer eight weeks of paid family leave to all eligible employees. At the time, they were one of the only public schools to offer paid leave through a family leave policy vs. disability policy or PTO bank. This distinction is important as it covers both maternity and paternity and doesn’t require teachers to exhaust their sick days to care and bond with their new born child.

Only a few months later, in August of 2016, the Palm Springs Unified School District created a paid maternity leave policy offering up to six weeks of paid leave. Mayor Bill De Blasio of New York City has proposed a policy for teachers and all unionized city workers offering 6 weeks of 100% paid maternity, paternity, adoptive, and foster.

While it is great to see private corporations supporting paid family leave policies, we know change is coming when we see public entities recognize the business case for a paid family leave policy and are willing to jump through the complex bureaucratic hurdles to put such a policy in place.

Impetus for Change

What was the impetus for change? As the number of successfully implemented paid leave policies increases, the amount of data available to support such policies also increases. The benefits of having a paid leave policy in place are more apparent than ever. Talent retention, recruitment and overall employee well-being are clear cost savings for employers. Beyond the cost savings of not having to recruit, hire, and train new talent. Having a generous paid leave policy means you want the best talent and want to retain the best talent. In the US, 43 percent of highly skilled women with children leave their careers or off ramp for a period of time. [1]This significant loss of talent is felt in the public school sector as well and change needs to be made in order to ensure our public schools recruit and retain the best.

IDEA Founder and CEO Tom Torkelson said “The global context is what it is, unfortunately, but at IDEA Public Schools, we’re doing what we can within our universe of control for our employees. We have made a commitment to our employees to do what we can to ensure they are the healthiest, happiest, best trained, most supported employees in the country, and this is just an additional way we are living up to this commitment.”[2]

The Nation’s Homework

Family leave policy is not a panacea and fixing the working families issue is more than just paid leave policy. While that is an important step, there is more to be done. The conversation needs to be the availability of choices for family leave (not just maternity leave), access to affordable quality childcare, and established return to work programs. The public school sector has taken an important step to make paid family leave a norm beyond the tech industry and we are better for it.

Can Public Schools Pave the Way for Paid Family Leave? was originally published in Support Paid Leave on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

No parent should be forced to choose between taking care of a newborn and putting food on the table.

By: Ayah Mouhktar

I grew up as the third of four children to a single mother who was forced to work day and night to support us. Quality time with my mom was a goodbye kiss as she rushed through the door every morning and a late dinner with her before she put us to bed. Her jobs did not offer her paid leave, so my older siblings and other family members had to help her pick up the slack when it came to raising me. The moments I shared with my mom are near and dear to my heart, but now I have learned that if my mother had had guaranteed paid time off when I was born, I would have established an even deeper bond with her.

My story, unfortunately, is not unique. And the importance of that bonding time is now much better understood. But despite the overwhelming research that guaranteed paid leave to care for children is critical for their long-term healthy upbringing, most Americans are not offered it. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that only 14 percent of the workforce has access to paid family leave through their employer. Common Sense Kids Action supports state and federal policy changes to ensure paid leave for all American workers. Last year, thanks to your help, we won in New York.

This year in Congress, we are again strongly supporting a bill to guarantee workers throughout the country the right to paid leave. We need your help.

U.S. Sen. Gillibrand (D–N.Y.) and U.S. Rep. DeLauro (D–Conn.) have just reintroduced their bill, called the FAMILY Act, to guarantee all U.S. workers up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave to care for a newborn, a newly adopted child, or a seriously ill family member. With guaranteed paid leave, fewer children will grow up like I had to, forced to sacrifice critical time with a parent because she had to choose between putting food on the table or being with her children. Paid family leave improves the physical and emotional health of children, encourages fathers to play a bigger role in their children’s upbringing, reduces stress in the family, and creates more stability and fairness in the workforce.

We’re working hard to ensure all children have the opportunity to get the right start in life, and the FAMILY Act is a critical part of that effort. You can make a difference.

Learn more about the FAMILY Act and take action now, because none of us should have to choose between family and a paycheck.

Paid Leave for All Families: It’s Personal was originally published in Support Paid Leave on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Paid Leave for All Families: It’s Personal

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By Robin Shaffert, Senior Executive Officer, Individual and Family Support, The Arc

Among my grandmother’s papers was a letter dated May 28, 1959, from her employer, the New York retailer Franklin Simon, informing her, “Due to the fact that your illness will be prolonged over a period of time, we have been forced to replace you at this time.”

“However,” the letter continues, “[W]e wish to let you know that your record with us has been good, and we will be happy to consider you for an opening when you are able to return to work again.” She received “two weeks vacation salary which is due you,” but no sick leave or notice pay.

I was shocked. My grandmother had been fired because she needed surgery. When I found the letter a few years ago, the Family and Medical Leave Act had been the law for almost 20 years. Large employers like Franklin Simon couldn’t just fire employees when they needed time off for medical care. Or, at least, they couldn’t fire many of their full time employees.

Born in Austria-Hungary in 1900, my grandmother came to this country with her husband and her son as a refugee from the Nazis in 1940. A housewife in Vienna, here she worked first in a factory sewing clothes for dolls and later as a saleswoman at Franklin Simon.

By 1959, my grandmother was living alone in a fourth floor walk-up in the Bronx. Her husband had died, and her only son was married and had a new baby. I don’t know what financial hardship my grandmother endured when she lost her job. As far as I know, she never reentered the workforce.

Being able to take time off from work for my own medical care, after the birth of my children, and to care for my parents and my sister who had congenital heart disease is only one of the many ways that life has been easier for me than it was for my grandmother. But even today many people can still be fired if they need to take time off from work. And, for many unpaid leave is an empty promise because they simply can’t afford to take time off without pay.

At The Arc, our mission is to promote and protect the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and actively support their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes. People with disabilities and their family members are an important part of the American workforce, and like all working people, they need access to paid leave. In my work, leading the Center for Future Planning®, I focus on the needs of the over 800,000 families in which adults with I/DD live with aging caregivers 60 and over. As these parents age and continue to support their sons and daughters to build full and independent lives, the need for flexibility can be critical.

We are joining the call for a robust federal paid family and medical leave law that adheres to a core set of principles. All employees (regardless of the size of the employer, length of service, and number of hours worked) must be able to access paid leave of meaningful length. People need to take leave for different reasons, and all employees should be able to access paid leave for the full range of personal medical and family caregiving needs established in the Family and Medical Leave Act. Families come in many shapes and sizes, so “family” must be inclusively defined. We must design a program that is affordable and cost-effective for workers, employers, and the government. Finally, we must ensure that people who take the leave do not experience adverse employment consequences as a result.

In the disability community, we know how important it is to celebrate one another in good times and to provide support in harder times. An inclusive and robust paid family leave program is an important building block of that support.

From 1959 to Today, Workers Still Need Paid Leave was originally published in Support Paid Leave on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

From 1959 to Today, Workers Still Need Paid Leave

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By Zoe Ziliak Michel

“Sometimes life doesn’t go as you planned!” writes Lindsay, a Washington, DC resident who has been diagnosed with two autoimmune disorders and will someday need a liver transplant. “Every single day, I worry that I will financially ruin my family because of my health problems.” But with the passage of a new paid family and medical leave law in DC today, some of Lindsay’s fears can be relieved.

Thanks to the long-time support of Chairman Phil Mendelson and others, the Washington, DC council voted today to begin building the nation’s most progressive paid family and medical leave (PFML) insurance program. The DC Paid Family Leave Coalition hopes Mayor Muriel Bowser will take quick action to sign the bill. Under the new program, estimated to take effect in 2019, private-sector workers will be able to get paid while taking time to bond with a new child, care for an ill or injured loved one, or recover from a serious medical condition. The District of Columbia joins the states of California, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New York in granting their workers this protection. While DC’s program adopts many of the features that have made the other states’ programs successful, it increases support for low-income families by providing a higher rate of wage replacement.

The wage replacement system to be implemented in DC will be the most responsive of any in the country to the needs of low-income workers. Those who earn less than about $47,000 per year will receive 90 percent of their regular pay while on leave. Those who earn more will receive wage replacement on a sliding scale, with the replacement capped at $1,000 per week. For example, someone who works full-time at $15 per hour, normally earning $600 per week, would receive $540 per week while on paid leave. This formula reflects growing understanding that low-income people will still forego paid leave if the wage replacement is too low to live on; such findingsrecently led California lawmakers to pass a law increasing the level of wage replacement from 55 percent to 70 percent for the state’s lower-income workers. DC’s 90 percent wage replacement will be a lifesaver for low-income workers who might otherwise be unable to afford to take the paid leave guaranteed under the new law.

DC’s program, to be funded through an employer payroll tax of 0.62 percent, will be the nation’s first made-from-scratch medical leave program since 1969. The four states with family leave insurance all built their programs’ infrastructure onto decades-old state temporary disability insurance (TDI) programs (i.e., programs that provide paid medical leave but no family leave). Unlike DC, those states were able to use administrative agencies and processes already in place, expanding them to cover paid family leave. DC’s process in developing its own system can inform other states without TDI programs, such as Connecticut and Massachusetts, where policymakers are currently considering paid family leave legislation.

Thanks to the leadership of Jews United for Justice, the DC Paid Family Leave Coalition, and countless workers and volunteers who stepped up to support the campaign, DC is leading on leave. The new paid family and medical leave program will help thousands of workers care for themselves and their family without sacrificing their income. The program will be a great source of support for low-income workers in our nation’s capital and will give some hope to patients like Lindsay. She says, “With [PFML], I hope that both I and my family can make it through the next few years intact.”

DC Passes Nation’s Most Progressive Paid Family and Medical Leave Law was originally published in Support Paid Leave on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.