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Oct 22, 2015

BWR Testifies At Briefing on Responsible Solutions for Working Families

Briefing on Responsible Solutions for Working Families House Committee on Education and Workforce Democrats

By Jennifer Tucker, Senior Policy Advisor Black Women Roundtable

Good Morning, I am Jennifer Tucker, senior policy advisor at the Black Women Roundtable of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. It is a pleasure to join in this morning’s briefing on responsible solutions to help working families succeed. Thank you to the Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats for extending an invitation to me to take part in today’s discussion.

And a special acknowledgement to Liz Watson and Eunice Ikene for their skillful leadership in organizing this briefing and the two earlier events in preparation for Tuesday’s (October 27th) Working Families Day of Action.

The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act --- H.R. 1439) was introduced earlier this year by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT). The companion bill, with the same name (S.786) was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). More than anything both of these law makers recognize that the U.S. is the only industrialized nation and only 2 out of 178 other countries that do not provide a system that supports families – like paid family leave.

The notion of family/medical leave is not new a new idea. As you know, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) became the law of the land over two decade ago in 1993. FMLA allows some workers to take unpaid time off to care for oneself, a seriously ill family member or to welcome a new baby. It offers time and job protection for specific family and medical leave but no payment for the time off.

By all accounts, the FMLA has been successful for the portion of the population it covers – it has been used more than 100 million times. But we all know that it falls short. Forty percent (40 percent) of workers aren’t eligible because of employer’s size and for those who are eligible, unpaid leave, is simply a non-starter. When you take these two obstacles together, half of the population doesn’t have access to FMLA.

The FAMILY Act will create a national insurance trust to provide partial income for up to 12 weeks of leave, in a year, for employees to welcome a newborn, recover from an illness or care for a sick family member or domestic partner. The 12 weeks offered by the FAMILY Act can be taken intermittently as needed, or all at once.

The FAMILY Act moves us into the 21st century because it recognizes that women make up nearly half the workforce and they increasingly work outside the home as single heads of household. A recent article in “In These Times”, revealed a shameful truth about time-off for child birth as one study showed 23 percent of women in its sample returned to work within only two weeks of giving birth. Taking time off to support family life, recover from surgery or have a baby is difficult for all workers. But some have it even harder. Black women are the sole breadwinners in nearly one-half of households (45 percent) and 25 percent of Latinas are in this role. In these cases, workers without any other income and without paid family leave have to choose between the family they love or the job they need. And as the baby boomers retire and need greater care, family members will comprise an even greater share of the caring infrastructure for our nation.

The FAMILY Act is designed to be a national program with every worker and employer contributing. There is no opting out. It aims to cover all workers, even small employers and will be funded through an employee and employer payroll contribution. It uses FMLA rules, which are well tested and familiar. For example, a serious health condition would be defined as such by the FMLA rules. But the revenue and payment system is universal and portable, like the Medicare or Social Security trust funds

And it is a good deal. The FAMILY Act will require employers and employees to contribute .2 percent of their wages into the insurance pool – this is only 2 cents for every $10 earned. When a worker needs the benefit they can expect 66 percent of their monthly earning with a cap of $1000 per week. It’s low cost but high return for America’s families.

This national program for paid family leave finds its model in three states: California, since 2004; New Jersey since 2009; and Rhode Island since 2014. But even before these states passed family and medical leave bills, personal medical leave through state temporary disability insurance programs have been working since the 1940s in California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island,

With 10 years of experience and analyses in California, there is much to learn. Family economic security and gender equity have been greatly improved. Low wage earners are more likely to take leave and return to work, instead of dropping out of the workforce, and possibly using public assistance. And in California, there is evidence that the number of fathers taking more time is increasing. Some 26 percent of claims taken to bond with a new child were filed by dads in 2013, up from 17 percent in 2004 when the program started.

Employers in California and New Jersey cite greater job retention, higher employment rates, less turnover and greater than expected outcomes. According to Eileen Applebaum and Ruth Milkman in their book “Leaves that Pay: Employer and Worker Experiences with Paid Family Leave in California”, California employers who were opposed to paid family leave had a change of heart five years after implementation and thought “the program had either a positive effect or no noticeable effect on productivity (89 percent); profitability (91 percent); employee morale (99 percent) or turnover rates (96 percent).

This forward thinking business perspective is supported by the recent rush of large employers adding paid family leave to their list of benefits, and extending their leave programs., and Patagonia are companies that recently endorsed the FAMILY Act, both providing paid family leave to their staff. Tech companies like, Google, and YouTube and others expanded their leave policies as well.

As ten other states, counties and municipalities know, in America paid family leave is not a question of if but a question of when. Increasingly working men and women see the value of being there for their loved ones. Just the other day, Representative Paul Ryan made a personal statement when he said that his weekends belong to his family. The FAMILY Act is a responsible law and if passed it will permit workers to be good parents, caring family members and effective workers.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to be a part of this discussion.

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