Paid family and medical leave is not a a fringe policy position or a great bonus policy—it is a lifeline all hardworking people must be able to access.
I am alarmed by the recent criticism from some of my colleagues in the United States Congress, who have been saying access to paid family and medical leave will “ruin” America. Well, I have news for them: It will not. We are about to show them firsthand that paid family and medical leave makes our economy stronger.
This week, the House of Representatives passed paid family and medical leave in the Build Back Better Act. After years of telling working families that paid family and medical leave will get done, we finally got it done. Now it is time for the Senate to pass this critical legislation, send it to President Biden for his signature, and finally make this the law of the land.
This victory represents an important first step. Moreover, this victory is one that is 28 years in the making with the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.
Before President Clinton signed it into law, I worked on this family and medical leave legislation as Senator Dodd’s chief of staff. It was landmark legislation that granted unpaid job-protected leave. We knew that it should always have been paid, but the dynamics at the time did not allow for it—which is why I viewed it as a starting point, not a destination.
I made it my mission to continue the work, and one day write and vote for the passage of paid family and medical leave legislation. In 2010, I drafted the first piece of legislation to do just that, known as the FAMILY Act, which would create a comprehensive national program that helps meet the needs of workers to take sick leave, care for a loved one, or a new child—no matter the size of their employer. I have introduced this legislation for nearly a decade, in every Congress since 2013.
I made it my mission to write and vote for the passage of paid family and medical leave legislation. I have introduced this legislation in every Congress since 2013.
This victory is also personal for so many Americans and families, and it is personal for me. In 1986, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I went to my employer and told him that I was going to be hospitalized and that I did not really know when or if I would be returning. My employer was then-Sen. Chris Dodd, and he told me, “Rosa, go and get well, no matter how long it takes. Your job is here, your salary is here, just go take care of yourself.” I was a congressional staff member, with three kids in school, and we were concerned about how we were going to be able to make it. Having the support of my family, friends, and yes, my employer, made all the difference.
And four years ago, when my mother was dying, I got to spend every day and every night with her for six weeks. As a government official, no one told me that I would not receive a salary. No one told me that my job would not be waiting for me. No one asked me to jump through hoops to access paid time off.
This is a privilege that should not be reserved for just members of Congress, their staff or the administration—and it certainly should not be a partisan issue. After all, people on both sides of the aisle have availed themselves of paid leave to care for themselves or their families.
If it is good enough for those who serve in our government, it should be good enough for working people everywhere in this nation. It has never been clearer that the United States needs a national paid family and medical leave policy that covers everyone across the country, and we need it now. Paid family and medical leave is no longer a fringe policy position or a great bonus policy—it is a lifeline that all hardworking people must be able to access.
That is why earlier this year, more than 300 businesses, brands, and executives from across the country sent a letter urging Congress to establish permanent paid family and medical leave. And why voters across the country, regardless of political affiliation, support a national paid family and medical leave policy that covers all workers. It is time to demand paid leave because we must protect our workers, their families, and create a more resilient economy. In fact, offering paid leave improves business productivity by boosting employee morale and making it easier for businesses to retain skilled workers.
The economic benefits are clear. Paid family and medical leave allows workers to avoid the impossible choice between caring for their families and keeping their jobs. On average, workers and their families lose $22.5 billion in wages each year due to a lack of paid family and medical leave. Additionally, working adults aged 21 to 64 lose an estimated $9,578 in wages after taking 12 weeks of unpaid leave. This equates to families losing 58 percent of their quarterly income.
Today, I am proud to say that the United States is on the path to no longer being the only industrialized nation with no federal policy guaranteeing working Americans paid time off to care for their family or themselves. It is long overdue that the United States joins the rest of the world and makes a commitment to enact permanent, comprehensive and inclusive paid family and medical leave for all. This has been an issue for decades, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the need for a federal standard. If we want to build back better and stronger, a universal paid family and medical leave program must be at the center of our work moving the country forward.
We can build the architecture of the future, but without a permanent paid family and medical leave solution, workers are at risk of losing their livelihoods, and the U.S.’s economic recovery is at risk of stalling. Now is the time to provide paid leave for our workers and families who need and deserve it. Now is the time to get this over the finish line. And that means now is the time for the Senate to pass paid family and medical leave and send this to the president’s desk.
If it is good enough for members of Congress, then it is good enough for all families in America.