Six years ago, I gave birth to my first child, a beautiful (but extremely late) baby girl who stole my heart and stayed in the level two nursery at the hospital for almost two weeks due to an infection.
Unlike many mothers in the United States, I had a somewhat generous paid maternity leave from my employer that allowed me to spend those two weeks with her, followed by another two weeks paid at home. I then used disability leave due to my emergency c-section to obtain an additional month of leave at partial pay. When those two months were over, I went back to work. As someone in a virtual office I was able to work from home, a convenience many are denied, but found my full-time schedule sandwiched between feedings, spit-ups, diaper changes, rockings and all of the usual infant care a new parent would expect. The hours were long, broken, and by the time she turned one I gave in and sent her to daycare rather than continue to work two jobs at once.
I was the lucky one.
As I swapped notes with other parents during that first year, and with other parents during my subsequent two births, both of which arrived at a time when I no longer had a job that even offered me that minor amount of paid leave, my friends who lived in Canada or England would react with amazement as they leisurely watched the weeks of their 6 month and 12 month long maternity leaves tick away. We all recognized the advantage the parents in other countries had when it came to child bonding, early development and interaction, and of course breast feeding. However, we also all knew that financially, without any form of support, parents just simply didn’t have the ability to stay home with a new baby, a choice that leaves many mothers especially returning to work even before their bodies have had a chance to recover from giving birth.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro hope to change that. The two Democrats have introduced the The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act), which unlike the traditional Family Medical Leave Act (FLMA) would not only provide a guaranteed 12 weeks of leave to a worker who requires it due to a medical need from a family member or the worker him or herself, but would make that leave a paid one.
Having job protection when an emergency arrives is a valuable workplace benefit on its own, but for many workers in today’s economy who are already struggling to make ends meet, and who often live paycheck to paycheck, unpaid time off is simply not feasible. FAMILY Act would instead put caring for one’s family in the reach of every worker, not just those with a hefty savings account or another way to pay the bills.
“Motherhood should not lead to poverty. Caring for a loved one should not mean insurmountable debt and bankruptcy,” writes Gaylynn Burroughs of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “Lost income combined with new medical costs can be financially devastating to a family at a time when they may be most vulnerable and unable to recover. It’s time for a change.”
According to the Center for American Progress, FAMILY Act, “would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave each year to qualifying workers for the birth or adoption of a new child, the serious illness of an immediate family member, or a worker’s own medical condition. Workers would be eligible to collect benefits equal to 66 percent of their typical monthly wages, with a capped monthly maximum amount of $1,000 per week.”
Plus, as Bryce Covert writes, the Act would help far more than just women. It would also assist men who need to care for families, the children being better attended and nursed back to health, seniors who would see their children able to take paid time off to help them in their own times of need, and a stable economy of workers who aren’t in danger of losing work, or unable to purchase the things they need due to lost wages or financial insecurity.
“When any one of us — man or woman — needs time to care for a dying parent, we should not have to sacrifice our job and risk our future to do the right thing for our family,” said Sen. Gillibrand in a statement. “Choosing between your loved ones and your career and your future is a choice no one should have to make.”
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