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WASHINGTON — Maryland earlier this month became the 10th state to create a paid family and medical leave program for workers, but Congress appears no closer to enacting similar legislation.
The closest federal lawmakers to revising family and medical leave policy came last fall when Democrats called for improvements to the government’s $1.75 trillion social safety net program. Biden administration, also known as the Build Back Better Act. But that legislation has stalled, in part because of the inclusion of proposed changes to family and medical leave.
Supporters of the family and medical leave reforms, including the two Democratic senators from Maryland, are frustrated by the impasse.
“For too long, our nation’s lack of reliable family and medical leave has held back our economy and limited the potential of our workforce,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen told Capital News Service. “Hard-working Americans deserve to take time off when they’re sick or caring for a loved one without worrying about losing their job or making ends meet.”
Van Hollen added that he was pleased to see that the Maryland General Assembly had passed its own family and medical leave law and that various COVID-19 relief programs had been passed by Congress during the pandemic to temporarily extend. family and sick leave, but American families needed a more permanent solution.
His colleague, Senator Ben Cardin, agreed.
“The United States is the only OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) country without a paid vacation program,” Cardin said. “Obviously, this is not the example of leadership we should be setting as a nation.”
Maryland’s family and medical leave legislation, called the Time to Care Act of 2022, passed on April 9 by supermajority vote in the General Assembly following Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto the day before.
Maryland now joins a patchwork of states where paid time off varies based on an employee’s location, their choice of occupation, and the size of the company they work for.
Limited leave policies in the United States contrast with those of other countries that have become known for their more generous benefits, including paid extended holidays and maternity leave.
Bulgaria leads the world in providing 58.6 weeks of minimum paid maternity leave with guaranteed job security, according to the World Population Review.
In contrast, the United States – under the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 – currently provides 12 weeks of work in a 12-month period to care for a new child, care for a family member seriously ill or recovering from a serious illness.
Under the law, “employees are entitled to leave if they have worked for their employer at least 12 months, at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months and work in a place where the company employs 50 employees or more within 75 miles”. according to the Department of Labor.
This law has loopholes, say the lawyers.
“The Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, remains the only federal law that provides protection for private sector employees who need time off work to manage their own health or care for a loved one.” said Gayle Goldin, senior adviser to the Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau.
“While monumental, the FMLA only guarantees certain workers unpaid absences,” she said. “Even when eligible for FMLA, many workers cannot afford to take unpaid leave.”
But expanding family and medical leave appears to be a reach with Democrats holding a mere majority in the Senate and at least one of their own party opposed to incorporating those benefits into a broader backstop bill. social.
“I don’t think that has any place in the bill,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, said on CNN in November, referring to the furlough provisions of the Build Back Better Act. last fall. “It’s a bill that’s really needed from the standpoint of whether we’re doing it and doing it right.”
Manchin said he thinks the policy could garner bipartisan support if drafted as a stand-alone bill.
“Let’s do it in regular order throughout the process. It is going to last. It will be forever,” Manchin said.
In the meantime, the lack of more comprehensive and consistent family and medical leave policies poses a challenge for many families.
Vicky Prosser, 33, of Triangle, Va., was a high school Spanish teacher at Prince William County Public Schools at the time of her second pregnancy. Her husband is in the army and he changes assignments, forcing them to move.
Once the couple moved out, Prosser said, “the likelihood of me working for at least 12 months before having a baby is just not high,” after the birth of her second child.
“And so it’s really frustrating that because I moved with my husband for his military service, I don’t get the same benefits for my medical leave after giving birth as someone else,” she said. . “So I would like to see that updated to have allowances for military spouses who have babies.”
Prosser noted that when she became a Spanish teacher in the Prince William County school system and was pregnant with her second child, she had not yet been employed for 12 months and was not entitled to benefits. benefits of the law on family and medical leave.
“So I had to take unpaid leave and I had no guarantee of a job when my maternity leave ended…it was all incredibly frustrating,” she said.
Rachel Williams, 35, of Glen Burnie, Maryland, and employee of pharmaceutical company Millipor Sigma, said she had a much easier experience with family and medical leave than Prosser, although it was still not without problems.
“My company has really streamlined the process,” she said of her pregnancy leave. “The initial paperwork, basically my provider filled it out and submitted it months in advance. The fact that I got paid 100% for 14 weeks was pretty amazing.
Williams also noted that she previously worked for a much smaller company, which followed 2010 federal guidelines and only offered eight weeks of unpaid maternity leave.
For Katie Garber, a mother of two from Takoma Park, Maryland, who is a social worker in private practice specializing in elder care, her experience has been more mixed.
Garber, who worked for a very small nonprofit that didn’t have the required number of employees for federal family and medical leave benefits, said she ended up negotiating her leave to have her first daughter. .
“They didn’t really need to give it to me,” she said. “But I was a valued employee, it was a small office, and my managing director at the time really wanted to set the precedent that he wanted to be family-friendly. So I took the 16 weeks.
Garber added that she felt lucky that her job was reserved for her while she was on leave. Under a different director running it, it might have been a different story, she said.
“At the time, there was no compensation,” Garber said. “So my husband and I went from being a two-income household, you know, basically two adults with two incomes, to three people – two adults and one child income – for several months, which was really difficult.”
“I was so lucky to get the leave the way I did,” she said. “And I don’t think that’s the way, especially a federal regulation, should be.”
In the case of LGBTQ+ people, requests to employers for family and medical leave in states that lack explicit protections can lead to employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
“Some fear the stigma they could face if they disclosed the need to be absent for HIV care or transgender-specific treatment,” according to the Human Rights Campaign website. “Too many others, especially trans people of color and those on low incomes, may face other forms of anti-LGBTQ discrimination, housing instability and violence.”
There are often additional hurdles with employers to overcome in the case of LGBTQ+ workers.
“The challenges faced by workers requesting time off for medically necessary transition-related health care are significant and painful, ranging from health insurance plans that don’t cover comprehensive trans health care and concerns about being unmasked in the workplace, bullying flat out,” said Liam Miranda, senior research director for the Human Rights Campaign.
The Biden administration is still advocating for more comprehensive leave coverage.
“This administration understands the importance of paid family and medical leave to protect workers, especially those in historically marginalized communities,” said Women’s Bureau Director Wendy Chun-Hoon. “Studies show that access to paid leave improves children’s health and well-being, maternal health, families’ economic security, worker retention, labor force participation, and productivity and worker morale.
Last fall, the House approved expanding furlough benefits under the doomed Build Back Better Act. But Manchin’s objections and opposition from the GOP in the Senate remain.
Separate from the Build Back Better Act, legislation to expand furlough benefits has been introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York. But neither bill has seen movement.
“In Washington, there is never a shortage of competing priorities, so the more visible and vocal members of the public can be in their support, the better,” Cardin said. “We need everyone to amplify their calls for reform and communicate it first.”
By CHRIS BARYLICK
Capital News Service