May 17, 2023 - Economy

Senate Democrats reintroducing paid family leave bill

 U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) speaks as Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) listens during a news conference on the Family and Medical Leave Act at the U.S. Capitol on February 1, 2023

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro at a news conference this year. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

On Wednesday morning, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) plan to reintroduce the Family Act, a bill that would guarantee 12 weeks of paid family leave.

Why it matters: The U.S. is one of only six countries in the world that doesn't guarantee any paid time off to new mothers.

  • The lack of a paid leave policy is one reason women's labor force participation in the U.S. lags behind other countries — an issue likely to exacerbate long-term labor shortages.

What they're saying: “Without universal paid leave, millions of Americans must choose between their livelihood and the health and well-being of themselves and their families," Gillibrand said in a statement.

State of play: The Family Act, first introduced in 2013, is generally regarded as the Democratic Party's standard proposal around leave. In addition to parental leave, it would provide workers paid time off to care for an ailing family member or for their own illness.

  • Leave would be paid for by an 0.4% payroll tax shared by employers and employees — a similar structure to family leave policies in several states.
  • While there's been more Republican interest in passing a family leave policy in recent years — including a new bipartisan working group in the House — the GOP's proposals typically look very different.
  • Conservatives generally oppose paid leave laws that raise taxes and impose mandates on businesses.
  • The latest Family Act is co-sponsored by a passel of Democratic senators including Cory Booker (N.J.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), and Maggie Hassan (N.H.).

Worth noting: This is the sixth time Gillibrand has introduced the legislation — and this year's version includes changes to modernize it.

  • The bill expands who qualifies as family. For example, in the past, a grandparent wouldn't have been permitted to take paid time off to care for their grandchild.
  • It also upped the wage replacements for workers, based on income. The lowest earners would be paid 85% of their wages during leave.
  • And the legislation now includes what's known as safe leave, so workers can take time off to deal with needs in relation to sexual or domestic violence.

Reality check: Given the general congressional gridlock, the bill is unlikely to go anywhere this year.

  • But advocates told Axios that they're in for the long haul.
  • It took nine years to push through the Family Medical Leave Act, which guarantees unpaid time off to some workers in the U.S., Jocelyn Frye, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, told Axios earlier this year.
  • "If it takes 12, 13, 15 years for paid leave, so be it."
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