Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said yesterday that she would help lead the effort to get Congress to add a paid-leave component to the Family and Medical Leave Act as part of her “American Opportunity Agenda,” Gannett’s Washington Bureau reports. Her proposal is designed for a changing American workforce in which women are the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of families with children under 18.
Twenty years have passed since Congress enacted the Family and Medical Leave Act, which required employers with at least 50 workers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for employees who are seriously ill, taking care of a family member with a serious health condition, caring for an infant or adopting a child. The National Partnership for Women and Families estimates 100 million people have taken advantage of the law.
What’s lacking, say advocates for women’s rights and families, is coverage for employees at smaller businesses and a provision for paid time off for even a few sick days.
“Rebuilding America’s middle class relies on keeping every woman who wants to be in the workplace in the workforce and earning a paycheck,’’ Gillibrand said during a speech at the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning Washington think tank.
More often than not, women are the ones who leave the workforce to care for a family member, she said.
Democrats in Congress have long advocated for the Family and Medical Leave Act to include paid leave. Gillibrand proposes financing a trust fund that would pay for the leave through a new payroll tax. Employers and workers each would contribute 0.2 percent, with a maximum weekly payroll deduction of $4.36. While on paid leave, workers would receive up to two-thirds of their regular pay. A maximum weekly benefit also would apply.
“We would create a self-funded paid medical leave insurance fund without adding one dime to the deficit,’’ Gillibrand said.
The senator said yesterday she intends to lobby New York officials to enact paid family leave at the state level while also sponsoring Senate legislation to expand the Family and Medical Leave Act nationally. The state Assembly has passed a paid-leave bill twice, but it hasn’t gone further.
Over the summer, Rhode Island became the third state — joining New Jersey and California — with a paid-leave program that provides partial wage replacement.
Other items on Gillibrand’s agenda include increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, boosting the federal child care tax credit and requiring universal pre-kindergarten education.