This week President Biden made history when he proposed a comprehensive federal paid family and medical leave program as part of the American Families Plan, a blueprint for building a better America. As part of the President’s paid leave proposal, the White House has indicated its support for using an inclusive family definition that would allow workers to take leave to care for all of their closest loved ones, regardless of biological or legal relationship. President Biden’s proposal was released just a day after Congressman Richard Neal, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, released the Building an Economy for Families Act, a bill that includes a paid family and medical leave program that would also allow workers to care for all of their family members.
Since our founding 15 years ago, A Better Balance has been a leader in the movement for paid leave at both the state and federal level. In addition to serving on the Steering Committee of the federal Paid Leave for All campaign, we have worked around the country to advance paid leave laws and policies that recognize all families.
The commitment in Washington D.C. to honor all families will prove to be a vital component for a meaningful paid family and medical leave program in the U.S. Currently, 81.6% of households in the U.S. do not fit the mythical “nuclear family” model—instead, millions of people nationwide live with and rely on extended family members and persons with whom they have forged strong familial bonds, such as siblings, grandparents and grandchildren, unmarried significant others, and close friends who live together. And for many, the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted their care obligations and priorities; the family members that we care for in times of need include those who raised us and the loved ones who have enriched our lives at any point along the way. For a paid family and medical leave program to work for all workers, and to build America back better, we must ensure that family leave covers time off to care for all family members.
States understand the need for using an inclusive family definition in paid leave laws. Nine states and Washington, D.C. have passed paid family and medical leave laws, all ten of which allow workers to care for family members beyond the few covered by the FMLA. And four states cover leave to care for loved ones beyond those with whom workers have a biological or legal relationship. Colorado most recently joined that list when voters passed Proposition 118 in November, which creates a paid family and medical leave program that allows workers to care for anyone with whom they have a significant personal bond. Additionally, this week Washington State passed a law to expand the family definition for their paid family and medical leave program, which will make the Evergreen State the fifth to utilize an inclusive family definition once the law is signed.
The same momentum has been seen among sick leave laws at the state and local levels for years. Currently, thirteen sick leave laws allow or will allow workers to use their sick leave to care for all of their closest loved ones—Colorado and New Mexico both recently enacted sick leave laws with inclusive family definitions, joining this growing list of states and localities with sick leave laws that use inclusive family definitions. At the federal level, Senator Murray and Representative DeLauro recently reintroduced the Healthy Families Act, which would create a much needed national paid sick leave policy that would allow workers nationwide to use sick leave to care for their loved ones, regardless of their legal or biological relationship.
We are thrilled that the White House and Congressman Neal are committed to creating a paid family and medical leave program that recognizes American families as they truly are—our country will be stronger for it.