Democrats Try to Keep the Fight for Paid Leave Alive
While Democrats in Congress were able to get a lot done in the last two years, they ended up leaving a number of major policy priorities on the table — including federal paid leave.
Because of opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a proposal guaranteeing all workers paid parental, medical, and caregiving leave was ultimately dropped from the expansive budget reconciliation bill that Democrats narrowly passed last year. Now, Democrats are trying to keep the fight for paid leave alive — a difficult task given House Republican control and the enduring disagreements the two parties have had over how to pay for the policy.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a longtime champion of paid leave, is among those pushing to maintain the issue as a Democratic priority. In a letter shared exclusively with Vox and sent to the Biden administration on Thursday, Gillibrand and 15 other senators call for the president to include $547 billion in funding for a 12-week paid leave program in his upcoming 2024 budget.
Gillibrand’s letter reflects the tough position Democrats are in when it comes to passing comprehensive paid leave, particularly since a president’s budget is a messaging document that’s not likely to advance. The hope, however, is that Biden’s potential inclusion of this policy is one of several ways to maintain the momentum on the subject in a split Congress. Short of passing comprehensive legislation, advocates say the administration can issue executive actions that expand leave access to federal contractors, and that Congress could take several steps to modify existing laws to give new unpaid benefits to millions.
Currently, the US is the only industrialized country that doesn’t guarantee workers a single day of paid parental leave or sick leave. This gap disproportionately affects lower-wage workers and workers of color, who are less likely to have such protections from their employers. Overall, 24 percent of all private sector workers currently have paid family leave, while 12 percent of workers making the lowest wages do.