The broad goal
Legislators and parent rights advocates have been battling for years to establish a nationwide law granting paid leave to all new parents. Some want paid time off for workers caring for older children and other family members too. That hasn't happened yet.
The current bill for federal workers
Now, a bill giving all federal civilian employees up to 12 weeks paid parental leave to care for newborns, newly adopted children, or foster children could pave the way for better parental leave policies for other workers.
The bill, which passed the U.S. Senate on December 17 as part of a broader defense spending package, provides paid leave to both mothers and fathers (research shows granting leave to both moms and dads is good for families). President Trump has said he will sign the bill into law.
America is the only developed country in the world that doesn't mandate paid parental leave for workers in all industries. By establishing a paid time-off policy for federal employees, the U.S. government is effectively setting a standard for other companies to follow. It's also building momentum around the need to provide this right to parents generally, experts said.
"We are optimistic that this momentum will result in a strong, inclusive, paid family and medical leave policy that covers all working people," Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, said in a statement. "All working people need time to care for themselves and their loved ones no matter where they live, their employer or the nature of their job."
The current policy for non-federal workers
Some companies, particularly in the tech industry, already offer generous parental leave benefits. And several states have passed their own paid family leave laws, including California, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.
But a staggering 84 percent of U.S. workers in the private sector don't get any type of paid parental leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Low-income workers especially are unlikely to have this benefit and don't have the financial resources to take unpaid time off to care for a child. According to the White House, 1 in 4 women returns to work within two weeks of giving birth because she can't afford to stay home with her baby.
The federal parental leave bill will cost $3.3 billion over five years and comes from existing government revenue.
Democratic lawmakers are also pushing for passage of a Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act that would give all workers up to 12 weeks off to care for new babies or family members with serious health problems, paid for with a small increase in payroll tax. So far, the bill has failed to gain enough Republican support.
Wondering what your parental leave options are and how to navigate the first few weeks with your newborn? Learn more on BabyCenter's Maternity & Paternity Leave resources page.
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