In response to a request for information (RFI) from the House Bipartisan Paid Family Leave Working Group, A Better Balance submitted a comprehensive memo highlighting the need for a federal paid family and medical leave program to ensure all workers can care for themselves and their loved ones in times of need, without sacrificing their economic security.
We responded with detailed answers to several points of inquiry, including the questions of what the framework of a strong national paid leave program should look like, the benefits of paid family and medical leave, especially for those least likely to have access like people of color, youth, and low-wage workers, and how to ensure a federal program meets the needs of workers and families. We emphasized that the way to ensure that a federal program will successfully and equitably serve the needs of American workers is to look at the incredible success of paid family and medical leave programs in the states. As an organization that has helped draft and pass the majority of the 14 paid family and medical leave laws in our country, we were able to make the case for a paid leave program that uses the lessons learned in the states. Our advice to federal legislators: “Don’t mess with success.”
In addition to making the case for a federal program that mirrors the successful policies of the existing paid leave programs, we shared the stories we have heard from workers across the country via our free and confidential legal helpline, both from those facing hardships in states without paid leave programs, and workers for whom having a state program made an incredible difference in their lives.
Workers like Maria and Samuel whose lives were really harmed by the lack of access to paid leave to care for themselves and their families. Maria, a housekeeper in Mississippi, was shocked to learn that her company did not provide any paid family or medical leave, and that without a state mandated program in Mississippi, she did not have a right to paid leave to recover from childbirth and bond with her baby. Maria told us it will be “challenging to survive without income” during this time. Samuel* (*name changed to protect anonymity), a truck driver from North Dakota, was devastated when he lost his job while caring for his elderly father, a Korean War veteran who suffered a stroke. “I told my employer that I needed to go home to say goodbye to my dad. I knew that if he passed away while I was on the road, and not there with him, I would regret it for the rest of my life,” he told us. “My company informed me that if I left my job to care for my father, I would be terminated, but I could “reapply” when I was ready to come back. Now that I am able to return to work, my employer is not willing to even consider bringing me back because they are so angry with me for leaving.”
On the other hand, we shared stories from workers in states with paid leave programs that were a lifeline for them, representative of the millions of workers who have benefitted from these laws. Workers like Emilie, an employee for a software company in Washington State who called us because she will be undergoing chemotherapy for 6+ months as part of her cancer treatment. She has been approved to use Washington PFML intermittently while she undergoes treatment, and contacted our helpline for clarification about her rights. “Washington PFML has been extremely important to me because I started treatment at 25, living with three roommates, with my fixed expenses like rent and car loan there to stay,” she told us, “I can only work part time with my chemo schedule, so having my income replaced even at a lower rate was life-saving.”
The lived expertise of the workers we assist with information about their rights forms the foundation of our policy work, and we were honored to center their voices in calling for a federal paid family and medical leave program on the national stage. We thank the members of the Paid Family Leave Working Group for listening to workers’ voices and prioritizing this important issue, and are committed to working by their side to pass paid leave for all.