Most people will need to take time away from their job to deal with an illness or care for a family member at some point in their career – and yet only eleven percent of workers in the United States receive employer-paid family and medical leave. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act), new legislation sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), would provide all eligible employees with as much as twelve weeks of paid leave. This leave could be used to deal with their own serious illness or health condition; the illness of a spouse, domestic partner, parent or child; the birth or adoption of a child; or the injury of a family member in the military or other emergency arising from their deployment.
Currently, less than 40 percent of American workers are eligible for an employer-provided temporary disability program. Due to this, as well as the fact that so few American workers are eligible for employer-paid family leave, many people are forced to make an impossible choice: take unpaid leave to care for a sick loved one (or see to their own care) or continue to work to earn the money they need to keep their families afloat. The FAMILY Act would provide working families with a better option, believe advocacy groups like the National Partnership for Women & Families.
On Friday, September 27 Senator Gillibrand stated her support for the bill in a Huffington Post article. She made the case that the FAMILY Act is desperately needed in today’s changing economy, in which forty percent of households with minor children have a woman as the primary breadwinner. (Read more about women’s participation in the American workforce in this fact sheet from the National Women’s Law Center.)
Administered through the Social Security Administration, the FAMILY Act would insure workers for benefits equal to 66 percent of their monthly income (up to a capped monthly amount). Eligibility for the program would be determined by a worker’s eligibility for Social Security disability benefits.
The insurance program is paid for through payroll contributions from both employers and their workers, with an extremely low premium of two cents for every $10 in income. For most workers, this means less than $2.00/week.
Advocates are pushing for passage of the FAMILY Act as an improvement on 1993’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA requires businesses employing fifty or more workers to provide their employees with the option of taking up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to care for an infant less than one year of age, adopt a child, care for a sick family member, or tend to a personal illness.
Although the FMLA has protected millions of workers from losing their jobs, it only guarantees unpaid leave and fails to cover 40 percent of the US workforce. The FAMILY Act offers a much more comprehensive way of helping workers by providing millions of families as well as young, part-time and low wage workers with a much-needed safety net in times of great distress.
The legislation is expected to be introduced within the next few weeks, delayed temporarily because of the federal government shutdown. Advocates will continue to ramp up support for the bill in the coming weeks.