Paid Family Leave a Critical Need

By Angelica Kekic, NOW Policy Intern It was September of 2006, and my husband and I had just received devastating news; following a routine cardiology work-up, the doctor informed us that based on the results of my husband’s echocardiogram; he needed to have an angiogram, in order to get a more clear picture of what caused his symptoms. Neither of us was prepared for what came next; the doctor came and met me in the waiting room — before my husband was even in the recovery room — and informed me that my husband needed to be admitted immediately for emergency quadruple bypass surgery. My husband’s surgery was scheduled for the following morning, which gave us no time to make arrangements for his long term care — or for me to take anytime off of work. I made a phone call to my employer and informed my boss that I would not be returning to work, and quit my job immediately. Doing this allowed me to stay home and help my husband recover from major heart surgery. Fortunately, my husband had been receiving Social Security benefits and – as a retired police officer –received his pension. It was barely enough to cover our living expenses and give us just a little left over at the end of the month to survive. As my husband began the long and tiresome road to recovery, it became clear to me how fortunate I was to have the option and the means to stay home and help my husband convalesce. I knew that millions of women throughout the United States do not have that option, forcing them to choose between earning a paycheck or quitting their jobs to stay home and care for a sick child, spouse, partner or parent. This is why the proposed federal Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act of 2013 (FAMILY Act), should be seriously considered. It would give women the ability to have choices when it comes to caring for sick loved ones. The bill provides up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for their own health conditions — including pregnancy and childbirth — or to care for a serious health condition of a child, parent or spouse (including a domestic partner). They would receive benefits equal to 66% of their typical monthly wages. The proposed law would cover all employees regardless of company size. Benefits would be paid out through a self-sustaining national insurance fund that the employee would contribute to through payroll contributions of two-tenths of one percent – which works out to 2 cents for every $10! Currently the statistics show that only 11% of the U.S. workforce has any form of paid family leave offered through their employers, and less than 40% have personal medical leave through their employer-provided temporary disability program. It is imperative that we strongly urge Congress to pass this legislation – with some changes to the program’s administrative structure– in order to ensure that families have peace of mind, and economic security. That way, when faced with the unfortunate situation as I found myself in (seven years ago this month, to be exact) families have the option to care for their loved ones and not worry about paying bills and putting food on the table. The FAMILY Act currently proposes that the Social Security Administration (SSA) collect the payroll contributions and administer the program; the National Organization for Women believes this will strain an already overburdened (and vastly underfunded) Social Security Administration. For several years now, the Social Security Administration has suffered serious cuts to its operating budget. The cuts have been so deep that the agency’s workforce has been drastically reduced, rural SSA offices have been forced to close, vital services curtailed and there are long lines at many SSA offices. There is no valid fiscal reason for such deep cuts to the SSA’s budget, as its operations are financed out of the Social Security Trust Fund – separate from the government’s General Fund. Observers believe that the reductions in staffing and services are part of a conservative agenda to undermine the agency, as well as public support for the program. A different agency should be designated or established to administer the program, as paid family leave is critically important. It is time that the U.S. step up to the plate and offer paid leave as most other developed countries do. Advocates will keep working on the legislation to address various concerns and assure its eventual passage. To learn more about paid leave and the FAMILY Act, please visit the National Partnership for Women & Families website.

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