WASHINGTON, DC -- Citing the need for a federal paid family and medical leave policy that covers all working Americans for serious caregiving and medical reasons, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) is teaming up with U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and 33 of their colleagues in introducing the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act.  This legislation would create a universal, paid family and medical leave program.  It would be paid for by establishing a 0.2% payroll tax – a few dollars out of the typical weekly paycheck, to fund up to 66 percent of wage replacement for 12 weeks of leave.

The FAMILY Act would build on a significant victory Senator Reed, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, helped achieve in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  That law, which was enacted in 2019, provided up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave for 2.1 million federal civilian workers to take care of a new child, after a birth, adoption, or foster placement.

“Paid parental and sick leave offers economic, social, and public health benefits.  It improves health outcomes for individuals and it helps people remain connected to their jobs.  Very few people can afford to take extended time off from work without a paycheck.  Yet we know how critical it is for children’s development to have a parent care for a newborn, or for someone with a serious health condition like cancer to have a family member help care for them.  Instead of relying on a patchwork of policies, the FAMILY Act would ensure every American worker contributes a modest sum and offers them peace of mind knowing that they would have paid leave and increased financial security there if they need it,” said Senator Reed. “I helped include the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act in the NDAA to ensure the federal government was setting a good example, to enhance economic security for millions of families, and because there are important benefits for taxpayers, including improved worker retention and productivity.  We demonstrated it could be done on a large scale and the next step is enacting the FAMILY Act to ensure all workers and businesses can benefit from family and medical leave social insurance programs.”

A December 2020 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation highlights that only 20 percent of American private industry workers and 26 percent of state and local government workers have access to paid family and medical leave, with wide variation around worker and employer characteristics.

Currently, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), enacted in 1993, requires unpaid leave for employers with 50 or more workers, who must allow parents twelve weeks of job-protected leave annually to care for a newborn.  Under the law, individuals may take time off without fear of losing their job, but in most cases the leave is unpaid.

Nine states, including Rhode Island, offer some form of paid family and medical leave.  The other states include: California, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia.

Rhode Island has long been a leader on this issue, dating back to the 1950s when the Ocean State enacted one of the nation's first Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) programs, which allowed individuals to take time to care for themselves when a doctor found them temporarily unable to work full time.  Rhode Island updated its caregiving leave law in 2014. Rhode Island’ program, known as Temporary Caregiver Insurance (TCI), allows individuals to take up to 4 weeks of partially paid time off to care for a seriously ill family member or new child.  It is funded through employee payroll deductions and relies on the same pool of money that covers temporary disability insurance program.  And in 2018, the state further updated the law by adding paid sick protections for workers.

According to the Center for American Progress: “As Congress fails to act, workers and their families also lose an estimated combined $22.5 billion in wages each year due to a lack of paid family and medical leave.”

“The COVID pandemic has highlighted with laser focus the need for workers to be able to balance their work and family obligations.  Rhode Island was fortunate to have paid family leave as we entered the pandemic. Building on our Temporary Disability Insurance and Temporary Caregiver Insurance programs, Governor Raimondo was able to allow qualified Rhode Islanders to quickly get connected to the income support they needed at a time of economic stress,” said Rachel Flum, Executive Director of the Economic Progress Institute. “Rhode Island's experience also clearly shows that paid leave is particularly important for workers with lower incomes, as the data shows they can’t afford to take time off without close to full pay.  In addition, providing support to workers with lower incomes will consequently help communities of color, who are routinely hardest hit by times of economic hardship and have been especially impacted during this latest crisis.”

“People should not have their opportunities for career advancement jeopardized because they want to start a family or their spouse is hospitalized.  We need to have a culture that values hard work while also prioritizing people’s ability to have a family, care for a newborn, or deal with serious medical issues.  A strong, standardized paid family medical leave policy would help more Americans balance their career, family, and health in a way that benefits people, businesses, communities, and the country,” said Senator Reed.  “The FAMILY Act would build on the FMLA and provide all Americans with added job security and health benefits, knowing that they can’t be COVID-19 has also demonstrated the need and practicality of strong paid medical and family leave policies.

To prevent people from having to choose between staying home if they’re sick and earning a crucial paycheck to cover essential expenses, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in March of 2020.  The law included up to two weeks of paid leave to workers who became ill with COVID-19 or up to 10 weeks of partially paid family leave to care for a child while schools and child care facilities are closed due to the pandemic.  But the provision expired on December 31st and Senate Republicans blocked an extension of the program in the most recent COVID-19 relief package.

“When workers can’t afford time off, they tend to forgo needed medical treatment.  Americans shouldn’t have to choose between their health and obligations to provide for their family.  This pandemic has demonstrated that there is a public health benefit to allowing workers to stay home when they are sick to help prevent the spread of disease and that is something that must continue in the years ahead.  The FAMILY Act will help save lives and help make our economy stronger and more stable and sustainable in the long term,” concluded Reed.