FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

A Bill Even a Divided Congress Can Pass

Expectations that a House controlled by the Democrats and a Senate controlled by the Republicans can pass legislation that will improve the lives of US workers are low. Economist and columnist Paul Krugman caught the zeitgeist when he wrote, “Democrats can’t pass legislation yet, but they can get ready for 2021.” With the 116th Congress just one month old, it may be too soon to write it off completely.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) celebrates its 26th anniversary on February 5. A serious limitation of the FMLA is that the leaves are unpaid; workers who need time off to provide urgently needed care for their families often face economic challenges caused by the loss of wages or forego the leave altogether. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which will be reintroduced in both houses of Congress soon after the FMLA anniversary, creates an insurance fund that provides benefits that replace part of a worker’s lost wages. It may be one legislative initiative that can garner sufficient support from both Democrats and Republicans to pass.

In the past decade-and-a-half, following California’s expansion of its temporary disability insurance program to include paid family leave, bipartisan majorities in six more states plus the District of Columbia have created paid family and medical leave insurance programs. These programs address families’ urgent need for an insurance program that replaces lost wages when a worker suffers a serious illness, needs time to care for a newborn, or takes time to care for an elderly parent in deteriorating health. Momentum continues to build, and 2019 could see paid leave programs enacted in Connecticut, Colorado, Vermont, Oregon, and Minnesota.

California’s program built on the national Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Passage of the FMLA in 1993 marked a major step forward for working families and has benefitted millions of working men and women facing the challenge of holding on to a job while welcoming a new child or caring for a seriously ill family member. But there are notable gaps in coverage of working families. Today, about 44 percent of workers are excluded from the FMLA. These are mainly low-income workers, including a disproportionate share of workers of color, who are not eligible for the job protections of the FMLA and are not entitled to have their jobs back if they go out on leave. They may have worked for a business with fewer than 50 employees or changed jobs and worked less than the required 12 months for their current employer or lacked sufficient weekly hours to qualify.

The initial paid leave programs exacerbated this unfair situation. Low-income workers paid into the insurance system and were eligible to receive its benefits, but they were unlikely to use the program without a guarantee that they would have a job when they returned. In addition, wage replacement rates were too low for a worker in a low-paid job to afford to take leave. And, the definition of family did not encompass today’s blended and multigenerational families.

The result? High-income workers could access the benefits of paid family leave while many low-income workers could not, thus inadvertently reproducing unequal access to benefits.

More recent paid leave programs have remedied this situation. In Rhode Island, all workers are entitled to get their job back when they return from a family leave. California has amended its program to provide 70 percent of weekly wages for low-income workers; Washington State provides 90 percent. The dollar amount of wage replacement has a cap that varies with the average weekly wage in the state. In several states, the definition of a family member has expanded to include siblings, grandchildren, grandparents, and in-laws in addition to a worker’s parents, spouse or partner, and minor child.

The FAMILY Act likewise needs to be amended to provide job protection, a graduated wage replacement rate, and a more inclusive definition of family if it is to meet the needs of all working families and contribute to a reduction in economic inequality.

Voters expect their representatives in Washington to govern. Passage of an expanded FAMILY Act could be a good place to start. It resonates with base voters in both parties, who believe new mothers should have paid time off to recover from childbirth, parents should have paid time off to bond with a new child, and workers should have paid time off to care for a seriously ill family member. Moreover, this legislation would have no effect on the budget, deficit or debt. Passing a national paid family and medical leave insurance program that works for all families will let a divided Congress demonstrate that it can come together to get important work done.

This column originally appeared in The Hill.

More articles by:
July 02, 2020
Quincy Saul
Who Made the Plague?
July 01, 2020
Melvin Goodman
De-Militarizing the United States
Kenneth Surin
UK’s Labour Leader Sacks the Most Left-Wing Member of His Shadow Cabinet
Ruth Fowler
Then as Farce: the Commodification of Black Lives Matter
Kent Paterson
Crisis After Crisis on the Border
Rick Baum
The Pandemic and Wealth Inequality
Michael Welton
“Into the World of Bad Spirits”: Slavery and Plantation Culture
James W. Carden
The Return of the Anti-Antiwar Left
Dan Wakefield
Charles Webb Enters Heaven
Julian Vigo
A Call for Radical Humanism: the Left Needs to Return to Class Analyses of Power
Binoy Kampmark
A Trendy Rage: Boycotting Facebook and the Stop Hate for Profit Campaign
Michael D. Knox – Linda Pentz Gunter
As Monuments to War Generals Come Down, Let’s Replace Them with Monuments to Peace
Cesar Chelala
Attorney General William Barr’s Insomnia
Raphael Tsavkko Garcia
Is Bolsonaro Plotting a Self-Coup?
Mandy Smithberger
COVID-19 Means Good Times for the Pentagon
Joe Emersberger
On Pablo Celi, Ecuador’s super shady “Auditor General”
June 30, 2020
James Bovard
Bill Clinton’s Serbian War Atrocities Exposed in New Indictment
Bianca Sierra Wolff – Lisa Knox
ICE is Leaving Immigrants to Die in Detention, and Retaliating When They Speak Out
Don Fitz
Should NYC’s Wall Street Be Renamed “Eric Garner St.?”
Chris Hedges
My Student Comes Home
Richard C. Gross
Obamacare Vulnerable
John Feffer
The Hatchet Man’s Tale: Why Bolton Matters
Thomas Knapp
Afghanistan Bounties: Pot, Meet Kettle (and Turn Off the Stove!)
Charles Reitz
Anti-Racist Engagement in the Kansas Free State Struggle, 1854-64: Horace Greeley, German 48-ers, and the Civil War Journalism of Karl Marx, 1861-62
Howard Lisnoff
A Student Murdered in Cold Blood and a Kids’ Bike Ride Through Queens, New York
David Swanson
Hey Congress, Move the Money
Aparna Karthikeyan
Memories of Pox, Plague, and Pandemics in Tamil Nadu
John Kendall Hawkins
Democracy Chasers in a Badly Injured Nation
Binoy Kampmark
Wasteful, Secret and Vicious: the Absurd Prosecution of Witness K and Bernard Collaery
Norman Solomon
Ro Khanna and Barbara Lee Could Defy “the Madness of Militarism” as Co-Chairs of the Democratic Convention’s Biggest Delegation
Jon Hochschartner
Imagining a Vegan Superman
Arianna Amehae
ESPN to Follow “Somebody’s Daughter” in Bringing International Attention to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Tragedy
CounterPunch News Service
An Osprey Forest in Humboldt County is Being Defended by Treesiters
June 29, 2020
Patrick Cockburn
The Blundering British Political Class has Shown the Same Incompetence in Both Fighting Wars and Coronavirus
Robert Hunziker
Arctic Heat Overwhelms Green Infighting Issues
Kathy Kelly
Battleground States
Eileen Appelbaum
The Pandemic Shows the Importance of Funding Early Childcare and Education Infrastructure
Gregory Elich
Will South Korea’s Moon Defy Trump and Improve Relations with North Korea?
Dean Baker
On the Recession, Stimulus and Economic Recovery
Sam Pizzigati
Defund the CEOs
Mitchel Cohen
Bolton and the Pandemic
Paul A. Passavant
Protest and the Post-Legitimation State
Ralph Nader
Congress Must Hold President Trump Accountable!
George Wuerthner
Missouri River Breaks: How BLM Neglect Threatens a Wild and Scenic River and National Monument
John Feffer
The De-Trumpification of America
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail