The House Committee on Oversight and Reform, chaired by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), held a hearing yesterday on the critical lack of paid leave for employees who need to take time off to care for a new child, a sick family member, or their own health. Committee members and witnesses discussed the ongoing need for a comprehensive national paid family and medical leave policy and addressed possible solutions.

Currently, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Only around 60 percent of Americans can access that due to limitations on the number of employees a business has. Additionally, millions of workers cannot afford to take time off without pay. Overall, only about 19 percent of workers have access to paid family leave meaning that almost 80% of Americans have no access to paid leave. Only ten states-New Jersey, California, Arizona, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, and the District of Columbia-currently provide or require paid family and medical leave. Out of 41 nations that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. is the only country that does not provide some form of paid leave.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Chairwoman Maloney, who have been persistently fighting for universal paid family medical leave, have succeeded in inserting a provision into the current defense authorization bill that will provide 12 weeks of paid parental leave to federal employees.  If passed by Congress, over 2 million federal workers will receive 12 weeks of paid leave in order to care for a newborn or adopted child.

“If this agreement is signed, it would be a victory for 2.1 million workers,” Maloney stated. “Parents would finally be able to have a child without worrying about their paychecks coming to a halt.”

Key testimony came from Rep. DeLauro (D-CT) who sponsors the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act) which would create a national paid family leave policy for up to 12 weeks and establish an Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave within the Social Security Administration that would provide covered caregivers with a monthly payment that would be 66 percent of their income.

“I remember when I was pregnant with my first child, and I asked about my office’s leave policy.  Do you know what they said?  They said, ‘Leave?  What leave?  Women just leave.’  I said that I didn’t intend to leave.  And the response was, ‘That’s never happened before.’ That was an unacceptable answer for me then, and it is an unacceptable answer now for families across this country,” said Maloney in her opening remarks. “Providing this benefit is a significant investment in our future—the future of children, parents, families and our future as a nation.  Paid leave yields better outcomes for productivity, health of parents and children, and long-term financial stability.  It also contributes to closing the gender wage gap,” she continued.

Additional testimony came from Jacqui Silvani, a special education teacher who spoke about the financial and emotional hardships her family experienced when her three year old son was diagnosed with cancer. Aaron Seyedian, owner of Well Paid Maids, a small business that offers paid leave to its’ employees, discussed how it is possible for business owners to provide leave without undue financial hardship. Other witnesses included Jennifer Tucker, senior policy advisor for the Black Women’s Roundtable at the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo of  the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and Vicki Shabo, a senior fellow at New America’s Better Life Lab.

Sources : Newsweek 12/10/19; Feminist Newswire 12/9/19

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