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Time to Make Family Leave Affordable

August 2, 2010

August 5th marks the 17th anniversary of the implementation of the Family and Medical Leave Act – when federal law for the first time acknowledged that having a family shouldn’t cost workers their job.

Sadly, for too many people in this country, taking a leave still costs too much. Nearly one in ten Americans have to go on public assistance while they’re on leave to care for a newborn or family member; for low-income families, that number is one in five. And nearly 3 million people a year who need to take leave don’t, because they just can’t afford to.

In these tough economic times, workers need paid family leave more than ever, but states simply don’t have the resources to cover the costs of computer systems and other expenses that come with launching new programs.

There’s new good news on that front: $10 million in the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee’s current draft of the federal budget that would help states cover those start-up costs for paid family leave programs.

The Senate could go farther by including the full $50 million that President Obama proposed, but this is a promising step for working Americans. Federal assistance with start-up costs will help states provide much needed assistance to working families in states such as Washington, which has already passed a program but lacks the funds to start it, or Oregon, New Hampshire and others which are working to start paid family leave funds.

Thanks to all the organizations in consortium states and elsewhere that signed on to the letter urging the Appropriations Committees to budget those funds. Without that strong show of support, the entire amount could have been cut. We’ll keep working hard to ensure that Congress maintains or increases that amount.

FVAW director Ellen Bravo commented on the need for these funds in a recent letter to the New York Times.

Her letter is in response to news stories that some mortgage brokers have declined to give new mothers home loans by falsely declaring that a person on family leave is not “employed.” The federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development quickly began an investigation to stop that practice.



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