Spotlight: Paid family leave

Off The Sidelines
6 min readFeb 16, 2021


The United States is the only industrialized country in the world without national paid family and medical leave.

This gaping hole in our social safety net forces Americans to make an impossible choice — between caring for themselves, their families, or their community’s health, and a paycheck. The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated this crisis. Millions of Americans — including more than two million women — have lost their jobs over the past year, putting an emphasis on how paid leave could have helped.

Since 2013, Kirsten has been the leader in the fight to pass the FAMILY Act, which would allow all workers in our country up to 12 weeks of paid leave for significant medical or life events — from caring for a newborn or newly adopted child to a sick family member.

This Off the Sidelines Spotlight digs into the FAMILY Act — how it works, why we need it, and why it is critical to our economic recovery.

Why do we need paid leave?

  • Americans are fighting to make ends meet — especially in the midst of a global pandemic and economic recession. Yet our country has utterly failed to provide them with the support they need to navigate the demands of their jobs and their families.
  • Without national paid family and medical leave, the majority of Americans cannot take paid time off to care for themselves or their families when confronted by a significant medical or life events (you or a loved one is ill or dealing with a serious medical condition, a family brings home a new child, or a spouse is deployed). That’s bad for families, and it’s bad for the economy.
  • In fact, today’s patchwork of paid leave policies leave 80% of private sector workers and 74% of state and local government workers without paid family and medical leave. And the lack of national paid leave disproportionately impacts low-wage workers and people of color.

Aren’t there existing laws that deal with this? What about the Family and Medical Leave Act?

  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), was signed into law in 1993 — and its passage was a huge step forward for advocates of family leave. FMLA afforded certain employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons.
  • FMLA is still on the books today, but it falls short for two key reasons: 1) It guarantees unpaid leave only, which means many Americans who would like to take advantage of the policy simply can’t afford to. 2) It applies to private sector employers with 50 or more employees — leaving out as much as 56% of the U.S. workforce.

What does the FAMILY Act do? What makes it different?

  • The FAMILY Act is a permanent solution to our caregiving crisis. It ensures every worker — including those who are self-employed or work part-time — has access to 12 weeks of paid leave for every life event. That includes bonding with and caring for a newborn or newly adopted child; caring for a parent, child, spouse or domestic partner with a serious health condition; addressing their own serious health conditions; or navigating specific needs related to active duty military deployment.
  • Up to 80% of people who take unpaid leave, use it for reasons other than bringing home a new child.
  • Through Kirsten’s leadership, the FAMILY Act is supported by an overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress, and has been highlighted by President Biden as a policy that would build our economy back better.
  • Paid leave shouldn’t be dependent on an employer’s policies, or whether or not you’re lucky enough to live in a state that has enacted its own paid leave law. The FAMILY Act creates a national policy that covers all workers.

So let’s get specific: How would the FAMILY Act make a difference?

  • To start, the FAMILY Act strengthens families’ economic independence. Working families lose around $20 billion a year in wages due to a lack of paid family leave. That’s money paid leave puts back into the economy through taxes and consumer spending.
  • It also improves health outcomes for people of all ages. Studies show paid leave contributes to improved infant and child health. For older Americans, paid leave ensures injured or sick adults have the time they need to seek care and recover, which cuts down on hospital readmissions and other complications. Consider California: The implementation of paid family leave in the state was linked to an 11 percent decline in elderly nursing home usage.
  • More broadly, it’s good for the economy. Working families with access to paid leave are more economically secure, less likely to use government benefits like SNAP, and more likely to stay in the labor force and build their earning potential.

That all sounds great…but how do you pay for it?

  • Kirsten’s bill makes paid leave an earned benefit, so YOU own it and can take it with you if you change jobs.
  • Under the program, both employees and employers would make a small payroll contribution each week (around $2 for the average worker) to an insurance fund. That enables workers to earn 66% of their monthly wages for their duration of their leave.

How do Americans feel about paid leave?

  • 7 in 10 Americans support a program to guarantee paid leave. And that makes sense: This is something that affects all of us, be it the birth or adoption of a child, caring for an ailing parent, or the serious illness of a loved one.

The Washington Post | Paid family and sick leave could expand for the first time in decades because of the pandemic

Now is our moment to pass the FAMILY Act — it’s how we shore up our economy and provide the caregivers in our families desperately needed support.

Here’s what you can do — right now — to help pass the FAMILY Act:

  1. Tell your members of Congress you want real paid leave.
  2. Share what paid leave means to you. We’re collecting stories from people across the country to illustrate just how vital paid leave is, particularly in the midst of the pandemic.
  3. Become a Citizen-Co-Sponsor of the FAMILY Act. Add your voice to make loud and clear that you’re tired of waiting for paid leave to be a reality. (And then ask your friends and family to do the same).
  4. Speaking of friends and family…talk to them about paid leave! Send them this spotlight, or chat about family leave on your next Zoom call. You are the most powerful advocate within your community.



Off The Sidelines

Off The Sidelines is @SenGillibrand’s movement to help women run for office—and win.