Currently, the United States is the only industrialized nation not to offer paid maternity leave. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or FAMILY Act, is new legislation that would guarantee all workers would receive paid family and medical leave. The bill was introduced on 12/12/13 by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).
The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act would build upon the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, which currently provides workers with 12 weeks of unpaid leave to recover from serious illnesses, care for new children, or care for seriously ill spouses, parents, or children. FMLA only covers organizations with 50 or more employees and employees must have worked for the same employer for at least 12 months consisting of at least 1,250 hours to be eligible. The FAMILY Act would cover all workers, including part-time and contingent workers in any size company and self-employed workers.
The FAMILY Act would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave each year to qualifying workers for birth or adoption, the worker’s serious illness, the serious illness of an immediate family member including domestic partner and particular military caregiving. Workers would be eligible to collect benefits equal to 66 percent of their regular or average monthly wages up to a maximum of $1,000 per week. It would be funded by employee and employer contributions of 0.2 percent of wages each to create a self-sufficient program which would be administered through a new Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave within the Social Security Administration. Payroll contributions would cover both insurance benefits and administrative costs. As is the case with Social Security, workers must have been employed and must have paid into the system in order to collect benefits. It is also affordable. Wages are only taxed up to a cap of $113,700, so the maximum contribution for a high-wage earner would be only $227.40 per year.
The FAMILY Act is patterned after family and medical leave insurance programs such as family leave insurance or SDI, which have existed in California since 2004 and in New Jersey since 2009, and will begin in Rhode Island in 2014. The FAMILY Act is backed by groups such as the Center for American Progress, which proposed a similar measure in 2009, and the National Partnership for Women and Families, which wrote and helped pass the FMLA. This Act may have an uphill battle to become law, but because it will not put significant pressures on the federal budget or employers, and more than 400 groups across the nation are urging members of Congress to pass this bill and to live up to the promise of offering more support to families, it’s time may have come. We will monitor its progress in Congress during 2014.
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