When Mel and I had our first child, Tristan, I was waiting tables while Mel worked at a hardware store. I was also in college. Both our employers were national companies, raking in millions each year, but paid parental leave was not available to me, and Mel was offered only 4 weeks of maternity leave at 75% of her normal pay — which in our state, at the time, was all that her employer was required to do.
When she had to have an emergency C-section two weeks early because of preeclampsia, they bumped it up to 6 weeks. I still remember how hard it was to leave for work while my wife was struggling just to stand up because her incision was still healing. She had to care for our newborn son alone, while I worked extra hours to fill that 25% gap in my wife’s wages. But the truly difficult part for me was the day Mel went back to work at the hardware store, and she was still bleeding. Obviously, she wasn’t done recovering, but this was the reality of our situation.
I have to assume many of you reading this have been in a similar situation. Paid parental leave is important, and but most families are not given this time, which extends to more situations than childbirth.
According to a recent survey of registered voters conducted by The National Partnership for Women and Families, 94% of Democrats, 83% of Independents and 74% of Republicans “support a national policy that would cover all working people who need leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child; their own serious illness or injury; a seriously ill, injured, elderly, or disabled family member; or to deal with the effects of a deployment or injury of a military service member.”
And yet, with this sort of majority across all sides, what’s the hold up?
That’s a good question, and frankly the tide might be changing in 2019 (fingers crossed). With the midterm elections behind us, many newly-elected politicians ran on a platform that included paid parental leave. For instance, in Colorado, State Senator Faith Winter, who sponsored the state’s FAMLI Act, was re-elected. And Connecticut is progressive as all get out on this issue, with Governor-Elect Ned Lamont advocating for comprehensive paid leave policies on the campaign trail along with State Representative-Elect Julie Kushner. Connecticut State Senate President Martin Looney and Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz discussed paid leave in post-election press conferences, signaling that it will be a priority legislative item in 2019.
Maine and Oregon also elected parental leave champions, and Vermont democrats won a supermajority in the state house and senate, which is important because Vermont essentially gained veto-proof power if they introduce a comprehensive paid family and medical leave plan. Their Governor vetoed a paid family leave bill earlier this year.
So does this mean that all states will be jumping on the paid parental leave bandwagon? I have a feeling there will be a few holdouts (cough… Georgia). But hey, this is huge progress, and sadly, progress takes time, particularly in a political climate where politicians think a government shut down is the only way to get something done.
But on an even more positive note, 39 states introduced and passed paid sick leave and five states passed paid family and medical leave before the introduction of a national policy, the FAMILY ACT, in 2017. And if you look at the info above, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Oregon and Vermont are well-positioned to champion state paid leave policies in 2019 and influence the introduction and passage of a national policy by the 116th Congress.
The ball is rolling, and I am optimistic. In the US, at this point and time, optimism on any issue is pretty significant. I’ll be honest, my heart aches for families in need of parental leave. While I don’t need it right now, I might very well need it in the future. Maybe tomorrow. And you might too. So keep voting. Keep fighting. And just maybe 2019 might be the tipping point for parental leave.