Jobs or Families? Workers Shouldn’t Have to Choose

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Women’s Bureau last week awarded $1.1 million in grants to help states and municipalities investigate paid family leave programs, acknowledging the vital role local governments play in shoring up deficiencies in national leave policies.

Millions of working people struggle to maintain their jobs while also caring for young children and aging parents. Yet only 12 percent of private sector workers in the United States currently have access to paid leave, according to the DOL.

Without comprehensive family leave policies, workers risk losing their jobs if they or a loved-one suddenly falls ill, if a family brings home a new child, or if an elderly relative needs intensive care.

Despite efforts by Democratic legislators to institute paid family and medical leave policies at the national level, Republicans have consistently blocked these efforts. State and local governments have instead had to take up the mantle

The DOL grants help local governments make further inroads into instituting the family leave policies that workers so desperately need. They provide states like Pennsylvania, Hawaii and Indiana, and municipalities like Madison, Wis., Denver, and Franklin County, Ohio, with resources to analyze feasibility, identify high-need populations, and engage in outreach.

The only national leave policy that currently exists in the United States is the deeply flawed Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which guarantees just 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Yet there are so many exceptions and exclusion to FMLA that only 59 percent of workers are covered—and many who do qualify simply can’t afford to take unpaid time off.

Paid leave programs, which allow workers to remain in the work force as they weather changes in their family status, have been found to benefit both families and businesses. They reduce employee turnover, cut down on training costs and help boost earnings over time.

The recent round of DOL grants, which builds on the 2014 Paid Leave Analysis Grant Program, will help craft policies that will further capitalize on these benefits.

“Too many Americans are forced to choose between the job they need and the family they love,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “While Congress refuses to take action to make paid leave the law of the land, we have seen tremendous leadership at the state and local levels to expand access to these programs.”

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