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Grandparents Day Push for Paid Family Leave

Advocates say family medical leave insurance would cost the average worker $1.50 a week. Credit: drrj/morguefile.com
Advocates say family medical leave insurance would cost the average worker $1.50 a week. Credit: drrj/morguefile.com
September 14, 2015

NEW YORK – Advocates and parents celebrated Grandparents Day on Sunday by pushing for new legislation that they say would improve upon the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 and could benefit every family member.

The older act allows up to three months of unpaid leave from work to care for a new baby, elderly parent or ill family member.

Patty Cole is director of government relations at Zero to Three, an early childhood advocacy organization. She says Grandparents Day seemed like a good time to ask Congress to pass a new family leave bill that includes pay.

“Grandparents help take care of their grandchildren,” she points out. “They become the custodians sometimes. They might help take care of the parents, the parents may need to be taking care of their own parents, so there are a lot of interconnections.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York introduced the new bill, called the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or the FAMILY Act, in the U.S. Senate. It would allow workers to collect two-thirds of their pay for up to 12 weeks while seeing to their own medical needs or those of a family member.

Anita Halasz, executive director of Long Island Jobs with Justice, is a new parent. To her, paid family leave means an added measure of security during a critical time in her child's life.

“It's being able to be at home with your baby without having to fear that your job is at stake and knowing that you'll be able to continue to financially support your family,” she explains.

As written, the new FAMILY Act would cover workers in all companies, no matter how large or small. Part-time, lower-wage and contingent workers would be eligible for benefits.

The bill currently has 19 co-sponsors in the Senate and 105 in the House. According to Cole, the system it would put in place would be similar to Social Security.

“The FAMILY Act would be financed by a small payroll contribution that both the employee and the employer would contribute to,” she explains.

Cole says the typical worker's contribution would come to about a $1.50 per week. But some say the 12 weeks may not be enough time to deal with a family health crisis.

Halasz says her partner had medical problems during her pregnancy that forced her to take more than three months off work, exceeding the limits of the unpaid family leave available under current law.

“After that, she's the one who has to pay for her benefits so we have to pay for all the medical benefits that the employer no longer covers,” Halasz stresses.

Advocates say the U.S. lags far behind most industrialized nations in providing paid family leave, and the Family Act would be a good first step.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY