The idea of a national paid leave program is not a new one, but it’s an idea that’s picking up traction again in the days of COVID-19. The pandemic has highlighted the need for legal protections for families who need time off from work for things like health issues, pregnancies and more.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced legislation on Feb. 5 to help “create a permanent, national paid family and medical leave program.” Called the FAMILY Act — short for Family and Medical Insurance Leave — it is meant to ensure that workers everywhere would have access to paid leave whenever necessary.
Unlike other leave programs, this legislation would provide benefits for workers no matter the size of their employer. Those who are self-employed or only work part-time would also be eligible for benefits.
The proposed national program would provide workers with up to 66 percent of their wages for up to 12 weeks “anytime they need it,” according to Sen. Gillibrand’s office.
“The pandemic has placed an overwhelming burden on women in the workforce, which has decimated many middle class families throughout the country. And this economic harm has hit black and brown families, especially women, disproportionately hard. Decades of economic progress has been decimated over the last year because these women have been forced to make the impossible decision between caring for their families or earning a paycheck,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I’m proud to work with Congresswoman DeLauro to introduce the FAMILY Act to establish a permanent, comprehensive paid family and medical leave program so that all workers are protected through the remainder of this crisis and beyond.”
Though California has many more protections than most states already, this program would be rolled out on the national level, if approved.
Those in favor of a national paid leave program have noted in the past that the United States is the only industrialized nation without such a policy.
The FAMILY Act is different from the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA. FMLA allows employees to take unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks per year for certain medical reasons, while protecting their job. Employers who terminate an employee while on FMLA leave can face serious repercussions.
The FAMILY Act has been introduced to Congress several times since 2013. Time will tell if this time it will stick.