Mother’s Day: Family and Medical Leave and Childcare Law Changes

Healthcare, Children

Mother’s Day: an occasion to recognize how much mothers do for their families. One gift that would be appreciated by most American mothers — and other caregivers — would be paid time off to care for newborn children or family members who are sick, as well as affordable childcare.

The United States is the only industrialized country that does not have mandatory paid family leave. When parents and caregivers do get paid family leave, it is most often a benefit provided by their employer — but only 17% of employees get this benefit from work.

National paid family leave efforts

On the federal level, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 offers only unpaid leave, and efforts to expand family leave benefits have made little progress since then.

Congress has yet to deliver on the promise of federally mandated maternity leave. Some members of Congress reintroduced legislation that’s been in the works for several years, while others introduced proposals that would allow families to pay for family leave by dipping into their Social Security benefits early. And it’s too early to determine if a recently announced bipartisan push for paid family leave in the Senate will gain momentum.

States ahead on paid family leave benefits

Paid family leave seems to be getting more traction at the state level.

Washington State, for example, passed a law in 2017 through which workers may contribute to a paid family insurance fund. Employers also pay into the fund, which offers paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child, or care of a seriously ill family member. Starting next year, employees can take 12 weeks of either type of leave, or 16 weeks combining both types.

Earlier this year, New Jersey also passed a new paid family leave law that increases the number of businesses required to offer paid leave, as well as expands the definitions of “parent” and the kinds of family members that workers can take paid time off to care for through illness. Starting in July 2020, employees will be able to take up to 12 consecutive weeks of paid family leave during any 12-month period.

Other states that have passed paid family leave laws include California, Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia.

The movement toward more paid family leave seems to be gaining some momentum, with around two dozen states expected to consider legislation this year. One of these is in Oregon, where a proposal to create a state-funded family medical leave insurance plan has been introduced to the Legislature.  A recent survey showed that 64 percent of small business owners support the legislation.

Federal child care bill

While paid family leave is currently a hot topic, another crucial issue for mothers — affordable child care — has also been broached in Congress recently. Sen. Patty Murray introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act, which would limit how much low-income parents would have to pay for high-quality child care. The bill would also provide universal access to high-quality preschool programs and improve training and compensation for child care workers.