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Kirsten Gillibrand Is Giving Her Paid Family Leave Proposal Its First Trump-Era Test

Feb 07, 2017

Even as Capitol Hill remains consumed by the legal fallout of President Donald Trump's travel ban and the on-going confirmation of his cabinet picks, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) on Tuesday returned to their regular drumbeat: pushing for paid family leave for all Americans.

The two lawmakers announced their plans to reintroduce the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act that would create a shared fund to make paid leave affordable to all employers. The legislation would guarantee workers receive at least two-thirds pay for up to 12 weeks when they take time off for their own health conditions—including pregnancy and childbirth—or to care for others.

The bill calls for a paid leave system that's modeled on already-existing programs in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island that have created self-sustaining funds to ensure workers can earn a portion of their wages for up to 12 weeks of leave. New York will implement a similar program next year.

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Access to paid family and medical leave should not be "a lottery based on where you happen to find work," DeLauro said in a call about the legislation Tuesday. "It should be a fundamental right for all Americans."

This is the third time Gillibrand and DeLauro have introduced the FAMILY Act. It also went before Congress in 2013 and 2015. In the last session, the bill was read twice in the Senate and was referred to the Committee on Finance, but got no farther. In the House, it got as far as the Subcommittee on Social Security.

This year's family leave bill goes before a Congress and executive branch controlled by Republicans, which would typically be a death knell for such legislation. The difference now is that the Republican Party has a leader who has voiced support for government-mandated paid leave.

During his campaign, President Trump proposed a policy that would provide new mothers with six weeks of paid leave—a radical departure from the GOP's orthodoxy of small government. While Trump's plan was unprecedented for a Republican, it was panned as being discriminatory since it would only apply to birth mothers and not fathers or adoptive parents. A Washington Post story Monday said that Trump aides are considering a broader parental leave policy that would also cover dads; the White House did not confirm the report.

The United States remains the only member nation in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development without a national policy mandating paid maternity leave. In the absence of a federal policy, more employers have stepped up to provide their workers with paid time off.

A new study out Tuesday from the Boston Consulting Group laid out the business case for providing paid family leave. After examining 250 companies that offer the benefit, it found that the pros of a paid family leave policy—greater ability to attract and retain talent; improved employee morale and productivity; more diverse company leadership teams; and better alignment with company values—outweigh the cons, namely cost. " The companies we studied consistently reinforced the message that paid family leave offers a healthy return," the report says.

While more employers like Ikea, Hilton, Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group, and the U.S. Department of Defense are catching on to the upside of paid leave, the benefit remains rare.

Just 14% of the U.S workforce is currently covered by an employer-sponsored paid family leave program and access to the benefit falls starkly along income lines. Workers in the highest income quartile are 3.5 times more likely to have access to paid family leave than those in the lowest income quartile. "[A] national policy would almost certainly be required to provide full and equal access to paid family leave for all U.S. workers," the report says.

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