Advocates for paid family leave have been trying, and failing, for decades to erase the United States’ status as one of only seven countries in the world without some form of universal paid family and medical leave. According to CNN, it’s been 30 years since the Family and Medical Leave Act became law, which guaranteed workers the right to unpaid, job-protected time off. A new group of bipartisan women in the House think that the time may be right to finally make progress.
Republican Rep. Stephanie Bice of Oklahoma and Democratic Rep. Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania are leading a new initiative, the House Bipartisan Paid Family Leave Working Group, to try to find a solution to what both representatives believe is an unacceptable situation for the country. As mothers, they both understand the importance of supporting families through paid family leave.
Their task force is composed of six House members: three from each party, including Democrats Colin Allred of Texas and Haley Stevens of Michigan and Republicans Julia Letlow of Louisiana and Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa. Members in the Senate are also working on similar initiatives. The hope is that the almost evenly split House and Senate, along with overwhelming public support, will be enough incentive to find compromise.
Historical and Political Obstacles
While the public supports paid family leave, efforts to implement it have stalled along partisan lines. Democrats have attempted to pass legislation multiple times, only to be stalled by Republicans and a few conservative Democrats. Most recently, House Democrats pushed a proposal for 12 weeks of paid family leave, which was eventually scaled back to a proposed 4 weeks in the Build Back Better package. Eventually, paid leave was left out of budget legislation that was passed last summer.
There is growing support for paid family leave among Republicans in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v Wade. However, they differ with Democrats on how to pay for it. According to an Axios report, “Democratic proposals are typically structured as tax-funded payments straight to workers. But Republicans have long opposed this framework. They’re more interested in policies that wouldn’t raise spending, which borrow from Social Security funds, foster the creation of new kinds private leave insurance, or provide tax credits.”
Opportunity and Will for Progress
Despite the obstacles, bipartisan proponents of paid family leave believe that progress can be made. Representative Houlahan remarked, “It’s time for there to be additional progress on this issue. It’s wonderful that you now can’t lose your job for taking time off, but that’s not enough for us to be a competitive nation. I don’t think that embodies the American values of the strengths of families as well,” and Bice added, “It’s time for us to find a solution and take action…Thirty years is too long. You can’t sit back and watch. You got to move forward.”