This week, lawmakers, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), announced their plans to reintroduce The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act.
If approved, the FAMILY bill would provide a self-sustaining family insurance program for all workers—young and old, single and married, regardless of gender. Qualifying employees would be eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid leave each year for the birth or adoption of a new child, the serious illness of an immediate family member, or an employee’s own medical condition.
As of today, only 14 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave through their employer. Meanwhile, those in higher income brackets are 3.5 times more likely to be covered. So, while Ma Kettle is back to work within days of giving birth, Pa Kettle remains in the back yard—raking up any benefits he can find.
But wouldn't it be nice if they could step out of history and parent together?
The thing about the FAMILY Act that America loves is what it represents: In the past, the pressure to care for infants has always been on Mom. While the United States maternity leave policy includes a provision mandating 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually for mothers of newborns or newly adopted children, it only counts if an employer provides coverage. And none of it includes Dad.
This new legislation, however, promotes a healthy way of living for everyone. It understands the impact that parental bonding has on a child and believes that all parents—not just mothers—should be entitled to paid leave.
Hooray for us if this thing goes through!
Though we still have a long way to go before converting the household into a gender-balanced theme park, the FAMILY Act may be the one thing that America needs to become great again.
The bill is still not quite at the level of the kind of family leave people living in other rich nations expect, but it provides more paid time off and is more inclusive than the plan Ivanka Trump said her father, then candidate Donald Trump, was endorsing. She discussed the plan with Glamour's Prachi Gupta over the summer, describing it mainly as time for physical recovery from birth. The plan was only for working women who had given birth and whose employers did not already have a paid leave plan in place. Under his plan, the leave would cover up to six weeks paid time off after birth. Fathers and non-birth mothers (including those who adopt) would not be covered by the plan.
The president's plan, as his daughter described it, would be paid for through tax reform—a decidedly different approach to what Gillibrand and DeLauro are proposing.
The FAMILY Act works by creating a shared fund where employees and employers of any size can make small payroll contributions (less than $1.50 per week for a typical worker) that an employee can later access for paid leave. There are presently three states that allow payroll deductions to create these statewide funds: California, New Jersey and Rhode Island. If all goes according to plan for these two U.S. senators, the entire country may be reaping a much-needed family reward soon—including dear old dad.
It's a little-known fact that fathers who take the time to bond with their newborn babies are more likely to play an active role in childhood development. Though evidence suggests that extended paternity leave can equate to higher cognitive test scores in children, a study issued by the Department of Labor found that only 13 percent of men who took parental leave received pay, compared with 21 percent for women.
Most dads and moms are concerned about work-life balance. We all want to do what is best for baby, and it is a proven fact that children need their fathers. Though we still have a long way to go before converting the household into a gender-balanced theme park, the FAMILY Act may be the one thing that America needs to become great again. Though in terms of maternity and paternity leave, we maybe never really were.