We Need Federal Paid Family Leave, Now

By Clarie Randall

Congratulations to Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who held her first hearing as Chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Tuesday! As a tireless champion for women’s rights, Representative Maloney’s first hearing was on federal paid family leave.

You may be thinking–don’t we already have federally guaranteed paid family (and medical) leave? Well, while FMLA does cover both family and medical leave for up to 12 weeks, it is entirely unpaid and it only covers around 60% of U.S. workers.

One witness at the hearing, Jacqui Silvani, provided heartbreaking personal testimony of caring for an ill child and losing nearly everything in the process. She and her husband lost all of their retirement savings when their three-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer and they relied heavily on the generosity and support of their community which rallied around them to help keep them financially afloat. The scariest part of Jacqui’s story is that it isn’t unique: plenty of families across the country have been forced into similarly difficult situations–financially, emotionally, and mentally–because of our legislators’ refusal to actually take care of the people they represent.

But don’t companies offer paid leave to employees in order to be competitive–especially in the current job market? That was one of the main arguments made by lawmakers and witnesses opposed to federal paid family leave at the hearing. But as much as certain metrics may indicate the job market is tight, we all know that the economy is ever-changing: the stock market and unemployment rates and cost of living and all of the metrics we regularly use to determine economic stability and prosperity are not stable and we should not be using the current status of a “good” job market as rationale for not providing workers with the benefits they need to take care of themselves and their families. And to answer the initial question–no, they don’t. Only around 19% of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave.

Representative Maloney closed out the hearing by announcing that an agreement had been reached and that paid parental leave for federal employees was solidified as part of the upcoming annual defense spending bill. The bill still must pass through both houses and receive the president’s signature before taking effect, but once it does it will provide 12 weeks of paid parental leave for 2.1 million government employees (the same parental leave benefits currently provided to members of the military).

While this gain is a drop in the bucket for paid leave advocates, it is an important win–especially during times when there are so few. We know Representative Maloney will continue this fight in the House to expand paid leave along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other advocates present at Tuesday’s hearing: Representatives Rosa DeLauro (who provided testimony), Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Jackie Speier.

By Clarie Randall

Clarie is Senior National Organizer at the Feminist Majority Foundation, where she runs operations and programming for Feminist Campus on the East Coast. Shortly after graduating from the University of South Carolina in 2017, she joined the Feminist Campus team to organize in Southeastern states. Now a D.C. resident, Clarie is passionate about digital and grassroots organizing and enjoys exploring the city with her partner, dreaming about getting a dog one day.

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