The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) turned 26 this week, just as President Trump was preparing to talk paid leave during his State of the Union address.
As the most female Congress in history gets to work, lawmakers have an urgent imperative to adopt comprehensive paid family and medical leave that allows all workers to care for their families without risking their jobs or financial security. No issue is more important to moms across the country.
Moms need paid leave to care for new babies, for sure, but also to care for a spouse or sibling who is battling heart disease or a parent struggling with dementia, or to recover from illness or injury.
Not just any paid leave program will do: The U.S. needs a comprehensive, meaningful paid leave program that covers all workers, addresses the range of caregiving needs families face, expands the definition of family, provides wage replacement sufficient to allow workers with low wages to take leave and ensures that the same or comparable jobs will be there when workers return from their leave.
We expect that, as with last year’s State of the Union, Trump’s lip service to paid leave will be followed with sparse details. In the past, his paid leave proposals have fallen far short of what working families need—providing only parental leave, doing nothing for workers who need leave to care for a sick family member or to recover from illness—and the benefits they would offer would not be meaningful, and would be especially inadequate for workers with lower incomes and wages. Their eligibility rules may even exclude the new parents who need leave the most.
That is not what the country needs.
Similarly, some Republican lawmakers have offered proposals that are deeply, even fatally, flawed—because they would reinforce stereotypes about women, require workers to trade future Social Security benefits for paid leave and/or provide inadequate job protections.
That would not be what our country needs.
Twenty-six years ago, the FMLA required certain employers to provide workers with 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave to welcome a new child, care for an ill family member or recover from a serious illness. It was a vitally important starting point, but it does not meet the needs of working families or our economy today.
We need the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act to boost moms and families, strengthen our economy, improve our health and make our workplaces more equitable.
The FAMILY Act, which we expect will be introduced in both the House and Senate very soon, would create a social insurance fund with small contributions from employees and employers; provide all workers with a meaningful amount of leave to meet the full range of caregiving needs; and be affordable, cost-effective and sustainable for workers, employers and taxpayers.
We want to be clear: A paid leave program that provides only parental leave is a non-starter for the millions of MomsRising members across the country who see paid family and medical leave as top priority issue.
Congress must pass the FAMILY Act, and President Trump must sign it into law. It’s time for the U.S. to finally give moms, and all workers, access to paid family and medical leave.