Earlier this month, the House Ways and Means Committee held the first hearing this Congress on paid family and medical leave. As witnesses shared their testimony and legislators asked questions and made statements, it became clear that there is bipartisan support for ensuring working people should not have to choose between their family and a paycheck. We will all need to give or receive care at some point in our lives, and we all should have that time without the fear of losing our incomes, or even our jobs. But what are the public and private sector solutions that will have the most impact for employers, employees, and families?
Among the witnesses who testified at the hearing was Pronita Gupta, director of job quality at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and an Aspen Family Prosperity Innovation Community (Family Prosperity) partner in collaboration with Family Values @ Work. Family Prosperity is rethinking, developing, and advancing bipartisan practices and policies that strengthen the health and economic stability of families with low incomes. By bringing together perspectives from various sides of the issue – employers, workers, policy experts and thought leaders – Family Prosperity is identifying innovative solutions that provide every family with what they need to thrive in the workplace and at home. Gupta detailed how the recently-reintroduced Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act would fill gaps that keep families in poverty, extending the benefits of state models nationwide.
Gupta made the challenges for millions of working families clear: “low pay, shifting work schedules, limited or no work place protections, and no benefits” – which are often provided only to works with higher wages. “Workers classified as independent contractors or part-time lose out too,” Gupta said. But “paid family and medical works, and there’s a rich trove of experiences on ways to implement it. We cannot afford as a nation to delay these solutions.” The FAMILY Act would create a national paid family and medical leave insurance fund to help ensure that a working parent can care for a new child and all working people can take paid time to address their own or a family member’s serious health issue.
Other witnesses testified about state-level paid leave programs and their benefits, including Anthony Sandkamp, an employer who spoke about how New Jersey’s law allowed him to retain skilled employees, and Suzan LeVine, commissioner of the Washington State Employment Security Department, who outlined an upcoming pilot program for paid leave in that state.
Both witnesses and lawmakers acknowledged the urgency of the situation for families with low incomes, and that we need to integrate employers into the conversation and policy design to create lasting solutions. The struggles people face when they have to take time off without pay can turn into long-term economic consequences for their families. And that is why family-inclusive, two-generation policies are so important – they provide a path to prosperity for parents that extends to not only their children, but all loved ones.
The Congressional hearing is reflective of an ongoing conversation in the United States about the future of work and the urgent need for paid leave and other work-family supports. As Family Prosperity explored in our employer roundtable last month, paid leave is part of a suite of supports, including child care and flexible scheduling, among others, that allow people to care for their families without losing income. Bridging those policy gaps is critical for all parents and their children have a real shot to get ahead.
Anne Mosle is a vice president at the Aspen Institute and executive director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute.