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Working Families, Advocates Call for Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program

July 30, 2014

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Contact: Alex Edwards, alex.edwards@berlinrosen.com, 202-800-8691

Washington, D.C. – At and in response to a Senate subcommittee hearing on the benefits of paid family leave chaired by Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC), working families and advocates renewed their call for a family and medical leave insurance program to ensure every working American can recover from a serious illness or care for a sick loved one or new child without risking their job or the income they need.

“As a nurse, I see the strain of families struggling with impossible choices, and I’ve had to make those same decisions, too,” said Amelia “Melissa” Bravo, a registered nurse in Raleigh, North Carolina. “When my youngest daughter was born five weeks early, I didn’t have access to paid family leave, or even unpaid leave. My baby was too young for daycare and needed me around the clock, and of course, I wanted to love and care for my newborn. But it cost me my job.”

“Right now, millions of workers who develop serious health conditions, have seriously ill family members or become parents are forced to choose between providing care or having the income they need to cover basic expenses,” said Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work. “The birth of a newborn should be a trigger for joy, not debt or bankruptcy.  Serious illness is stressful enough without having to worry about financial upheaval.”

Bravo continued: “We applaud Sen. Kay Hagan for recognizing the need for working families to have access to paid family and medical leave in these situations. The hearing she is hosting will showcase the benefits of paid leave for workers and businesses in North Carolina and across the country.

“The hearing is the latest sign of the growing commitment by policy makers to find a solution that can help every working family meet the dual demands of job and family. Like Sen. Hagan, we encourage more employers to offer paid leave. But as a nation, we must guarantee access to affordable leave to everyone. A growing body of evidence makes clear that the best way to do that is through a family and medical leave insurance program.”

At the hearing, North Carolina resident and MomsRising member Jeannine Sato spoke about being denied FMLA when she had her first child.

Sato said: “This is a human issue. Families should have the opportunity to care for their loved ones without the risk of losing their jobs or falling into poverty. America needs to step up and join the rest of the industrialized world in offering paid family leave in order to be competitive and humane.”

In her testimony, Sato discussed her decision to look for a new employer with better leave policies.  In part as a result of working at a place with paid leave, she said she now feels empowered and supported and is a more loyal and productive employee. Pointing out her privilege in being able to negotiate these benefits, Sato called for a universal paid leave policy that doesn’t leave the decision to the discretion of individual employers.

The Family and Medical Leave Act – the only federal law designed to help working people succeed both as providers and caregivers – leaves out 40 percent of the workforce and guarantees only unpaid leave, which millions cannot afford. Currently only 12 percent of the U.S. workers have access to paid family leave through their employers, and less than 40 percent have personal medical leave through an employer-provided temporary disability program.

State family and medical leave insurance programs have already been successful in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island. Earlier this month marked the tenth anniversary of familyleave insurance in California, the fifth anniversary in New Jersey and the first in Rhode Island.

California

In 2002, California became the first state to pass a Paid Family Leave program. The program has been enormously successfully, benefitting 1.8 million Californians since implementation. Research shows that California’s paid leave program has improved worker retention and increased productivity, profitability and morale.  More than 9 in 10 employers report no costs – or cost-savings – from the program.

New Jersey

Since 2009, New Jersey’s law has allowed more than 160,000 workers to take paid family leave, the vast majority to care for new babies. Contrary to predictions from opponents, the program has had no negative impact on businesses. Many employers have reported increased employeemorale as a result, and more than 3 in 4 New Jerseyans support the law.

Rhode Island

In 2013, Rhode Island became the third state to adopt a family leave insurance program,known as Temporary Care Insurance. This initiative broke new ground by protecting the jobs of all workers who use the program, not just those who are also covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act. Since the law went into effect in 2014, more than 1,000 workers have benefited from paid leave.

Momentum Across the Country

In Washington State, a paid leave program awaits funding. New York State is the next state likely to pass a family leave insurance program. Vermont, Connecticut and New Hampshire have each approved a task force to explore the issue. And several other states, including Colorado, Hawaii,Nebraska and Wisconsin are laying the groundwork for similar legislation.

In Congress, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in the House introduced the FAMILY Act in December 2013, and it currently has nearly 90 sponsors. This bill would provide workers up to 12 weeks of paid leave for a personal serious illness, an illness of a child, parent or spouse and the birth or adoption of a child, among others. Workers and employers would each contribute two-tenths of one percent of pay into this insurance program; the self-sustaining fund would mean workers could receive up to 66 percent of their wages while on leave.

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Family Values @ Work is a network of coalitions in 21 states working to pass policies such as paid sick days and affordable family leave. More information at http://familyvaluesatwork.org.

Read the personal stories of working people across the country who benefitted from affordable family leave or suffered due to the lack of protection.

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