On Tuesday, January 28, the House Committee on Ways and Means held a hearing on the Legislative Proposals for Paid Family and Medical Leave. The hearing focused on the bipartisan Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act), which would establish small monthly payroll contributions to fund employee’s paid leave to care for themselves or their family. Only nine states currently provide paid family leave.
The hearing consisted two panels: the first panel included Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Ann Wagner (R-MO), and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and the second panel included: Joan Lunden, journalist and former host of Good Morning America, Kemi Role, Director of Work Equity at the National Employment Law Project, Sharon Terman, Director of Work and Family Policy at Legal Aid at Work of California, Hadley Heath Manning, Director of Policy at Independent Women’s Forum and Independent Women’s Voice, Rebecca Hamilton, Co-CEO of W.S. Badger, and Vicki Shabo, Senior Fellow for Paid Leave Policy and Strategy at New America.
While many panelists were in favor of the act, Hadley Heath Manning voiced many concerns. Ms. Manning believed that imposing a payroll tax is regressive and insisted that policy be judged “by results, not intentions.” However, many congressmen and fellow panelists referred to California’s paid family leave program, citing it as a success. Ms. Terman and Ms. Shabo made three main recommendations: first, add anti-retaliation language to guarantee job safety; second, expand the definition of family to include LGBTQ+ and multigenerational families; and third, make the wage replacement progressive to protect low-income workers.
Many committee members agreed with these recommendations, including Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who stated his state passed the “most progressive paid leave policy with bipartisan support.” Oregon’s policy includes many of the above recommendations, such as providing 100% wage replacement to low-income workers. Congressman Brad Schneider (D-IL) shared his personal experience in how he lost his job and was able to stay home with his newborn son while his wife worked. Staying home strengthened Schneider’s relationship with his son even decades later. Schneider hopes the FAMILY Act will provide this experience for families in the future.
Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL) questioned Terman on what has been the California experience for disadvantaged populations such as women of color. Terman said that the number of children raised by grandparents since the 1970s has doubled, and families of color are more likely to live in multigenerational households. By expanding the definition of family to include grandparents, families can better care for a child. Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA), a co-sponsor for the FAMILY Act, is a mother and a caregiver for her mother with Alzheimer’s. Sanchez asked Terman how health disparities were impacted, to which Terman showed positive outcomes for children. When children have a parent to stay with them, their hospital stays are reduced by one-third. This is not only a better health outcome but also a decrease in medical bill costs for families.
The need to address the financial needs of new parents and caretakers is not lost to the Committee. To put the issue into perspective, Ms. Lunden offered the statistic that 1 in 4 go back to work ten days postpartum. Despite disagreements on payroll taxes, members can agree that it is an issue worth addressing. Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA) stated that “this is not a Republican or Democrat issue; this is an American issue.” Further, many committee members noted that the United States is one of three countries in the United Nations that does not offer paid family leave. A federally mandated paid family leave act will address physical and mental health issues, as well as income security. However, as Representative Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) emphasized, “we have a long way to go” in establishing a bill that addresses both party’s concerns. Despite the main areas of contention focusing on funding, all committee members agreed on the benefits of paid family leave for children and families.