by Ellen Bravo
Unintended consequences” – this is the term we hear all the time from lobbyists for mega corporations when they try to block new policies that would allow people to care for their loved ones and provide for them. “You’re well-intentioned,” they drone, “but you’ll bring about unintended consequences that will hurt the very people you want to help.”
What they really mean is: “You’re on your own and we don’t really care what happens to you or your loved one.”
We’ll hear plenty of these predictors of doom when Sen. Kristin Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro introduce the FAMILY Act. Their bill will create a family and medical leave insurance fund so people have access to two-thirds of their wages while they care for a serious personal or family illness or for a new baby.
Here’s the good news: these programs already exist for folks in California and New Jersey and will start soon in Rhode Island. We know they’re a boon for families and that businesses support them. More people are able to spend time healing or providing needed care to a loved one while keeping their jobs and still covering expenses. It’s a simple solution.
But this leaves out all the other “consequences” Americans will celebrate once everyone has access to this basic protection:
Fewer babies will die. Paid parental leave reduces infant mortality and produces better long-term health outcomes, especially for children with chronic health conditions.
More of our babies will thrive. New mothers who take paid leave are more likely to take the minimum doctor-recommended six to eight weeks to recover from birth. Newborns whose mothers take 12 weeks of leave are more likely to be breastfed, receive regular check-ups, and get critical immunizations
Our sick kids will get well more quickly. When parents take time to care for their sick children, the length of hospital stays is decreased by nearly a third.
Seniors will have greater independence. When cared for by family members, patients in the hospital recover from illness and injury faster, leading to shorter hospital stays, improved health outcomes, and decreased health costs.
Dads will be more involved with their kids. Paid family leave increases men’s role in caregiving by making it possible for them to be involved without the family taking a big financial hit. In California, for example, fathers’ leave-taking for bonding with a new child rose 12 percent from 2011 to 2012.
Fewer of us will go bankrupt. Studies show that seven percent of people who filed for bankruptcy cited the birth of a child as the cause. A significant number of bankruptcies also happen after a worker misses two of more weeks of work due to illness.
People will have more money to spend, just what small businesses say they need. Business owners cite weak sales as the biggest problem for their business and the economy, according to a joint survey by the American Sustainable Business Council, the Main Street Alliance and the Small Business Majority.
More LGBT families will be able to care for each other in sickness as in health. The majority of same-sex couples live in states that exclude them even from unpaid leave. The FAMILY Act will cover domestic partners.
More mothers will be able to provide for their families. Women who take paid leave after a child’s birth are more likely to be employed the following year and report increased wages than women who do not take leave. Parents who took leave report lower levels of public assistance in the year following their child’s birth, when compared to those without paid leave.
Americans will be healthier. Prompt treatment leads to better outcomes. In the last decade, two and a half times as many people who were eligible for family leave didn’t take it, mostly because they couldn’t afford to go without pay. Many also cut short their treatment to keep the lights on and food on the table.
It’s time to recognize all the positive extra’s the FAMILY Act will bring – and to enlist those who care about the well-being of kids and seniors, about health care and the economy, about family solidity and solvency, to support passage of this legislation.