National Paid Family Leave Is Long Overdue — A New Bill Could Change Everything

As the Delta variant surges, kids return to school, and businesses bring employees back to the workplace, it seems like the world is ready to move on without a second thought. Except for moms.

But as much as some might be tired from hearing about the struggles mothers are facing, I can promise you that mothers are more tired. It’s deja vu for parents in America, as schools are re-opening in person. Between wondering what this means for their kids, their careers and their lives in general, moms across America have had enough.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a catastrophic event for moms, and frankly, they’re pissed. They’ve endured layoffs, struggled to make ends meet, fought to keep their kids and parents safe, all while taking conference calls in their closets. And as unvaccinated individuals continue to spread COVID-19, the prospect of another year of kids at the kitchen table doing Zoom classes while parents desperately seek childcare is becoming more likely. Moms cannot endure another 16 months of this precarious balancing act. Moms want action.

The Biden administration and Congress took an important first step with the expanded child tax credit. This is money in the hands of working families, allowing women to pay rent and utilities, car payments, and childcare bills. Now, Congress has a chance to finally push us into the 21st century and establish a comprehensive, national Paid Family and Medical Leave policy that would provide Americans with paid time off to care for newborn children, give assistance to sick family members, or use it to recover from illness themselves. The policy, proposed by the Biden administration, is now under the consideration of Congress and will soon face a vote.

Moms cannot endure another 16 months of this precarious balancing act. Moms want action.

Why is this immediate action so important? We know the pandemic dealt a devastating blow to women’s employment. Last September, the first time kids went back to school during the pandemic, 80% of people leaving the workforce were women. In December, women accounted for 100% of the lost jobs. When I spoke with Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, she said that “there is no work-life balance,” and that “it’s a lie we tell families in this country and it’s a lie we especially tell women who work outside of the home. We cannot do it all.”

Imagine doing your job while simultaneously teaching 4th grade math or 8th grade science, and it’s not difficult to see why so many women had to leave their careers. Now, experts say it may take nearly two years for women’s employment to increase back to pre-pandemic numbers.

For those who still have their jobs, many of them are front-line workers, as women fill a majority of positions in healthcare and emergency services. And as we all know, women continue to disproportionately and overwhelmingly bear the burden of (unpaid) caregiving in their own home. But consequences like these are not inevitable.

This is a defining moment for politicians of both parties — an opportunity to show they understand the systemic challenges and pressures that make it too hard for families and women to thrive in America. If we had a proper paid leave policy (like every other industrialized nation), women could have taken leave to care for their kids or for their parents. Women business owners could have given and taken leave, allowing their businesses to adapt to the daily changes during the pandemic and survive for the long-run.

The bottom line: it’s smart for businesses, too. Policies like Paid Family and Medical Leave are a moral and political imperative. Women played a decisive role in electing a new president and new members of Congress. Now it’s time for politicians to listen to what women need to not only survive, but thrive. On behalf of all the pissed moms, I’m calling on Congress to pass Paid Family and Medical Leave during the budget reconciliation process and deliver on the promises to moms and working parents everywhere.

Emily Tisch Sussman is a family policy advocate, host of the all-women Your Political Playlist podcast, and Senior Advisor for Paid Leave U.S. 

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