House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) unveiled a plan for up to 12 weeks of paid federal family and medical leave for workers.
“Our economy is premised on the idea that some workers are worthy of ‘perks’, like paid leave or affordable child care that works for their schedules, while the majority are forced to fend for themselves,” Neal said in a press release on Tuesday. “For our economy to fully recover from this pandemic, we must finally acknowledge that workers have families, and caregiving responsibilities are real.”
The Building an Economy for Families Act introduced by Neal would provide all eligible workers with at least two-thirds of their wages for up to 12 weeks, with low-wage workers having a higher wage replacement rate.
To qualify workers would need to have wages or self-employment income in the 30 days prior to their caregiving day and have earnings in any calendar quarter of the last eight calendar quarters, among other requirements.
The United States is the only Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country that doesn’t provide universal federal paid leave for new mothers, and one of the few that doesn’t provide it to new fathers, according to data from the OECD.
Currently, less than 1 in 5 workers have access to paid employer-provided family leave and 2 in 5 have access to paid medical leave, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Access to paid leave varies significantly by income. Less than 1 in 10 workers in the bottom 25% have access to paid family leave compared with 1 in 4 for the top 25%.
‘We must end the international embarrassment'
Paid leave policies have been expanding in recent years but the majority of workers still don’t have access to them. On a state level, nine states enacted paid family and medical leave policy in 2021. Only four states had such policies in 2016. Additionally, as of October 2020, federal employees are now granted up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave as part of the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act.
The U.S. only has a federal law that provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave protections to some workers under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993. The law covers only 60% of the workforce because small employers are exempt, according to an analysis by Abt Associates.
There have been efforts to adopt a national paid leave policy but no federal legislation has become law so far, including the 2019 Family Act that aimed to create a national insurance program to provide workers with up to 12 weeks of partial income. Progressive Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have also criticized the lack of federal policy and advocated for creating one.
“We must end the international embarrassment of being the only major country on the planet not to guarantee a single day of paid maternity leave,” Sanders said in a tweet on Friday.
The U.S. ranked last among 41 high-and middle-income countries worldwide when it comes to family-friendliness in a 2019 study by the United Nations children's fund UNICEF. In fact, out of the 193 countries in the United Nations, only three do not provide statutory nationwide paid family leave policy: Papua New Guinea, Suriname, and the U.S., according to the WORLD Policy Analysis Center.