This week, child and family advocates and Congressional champions have been recognizing the 20th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA, P.L. 103-3). Yesterday, at a Capitol Hill reception, attendees celebrated that over 100 million people have made use of the FMLA to be legally protected for unpaid leave to care for newborns, a sick relative, or themselves. Today, FMLA discussions continued with a policy research briefing on needed next steps.
Hosted by the American Institute for Research and Zero to Three, the briefing speakers included Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), NPR’s Ron Elving, Co-authors of Time Off with Baby Susan Muenchow and Chris Ruhm, Zero to Three’s Matthew Melmed, and the National Partnership for Women and Families’ Vicki Shabo. Amongst recommendations to modernize and expand FMLA, paid leave surfaced as the most pressing. While research shows that FMLA has enabled people to take more time to balance the competing priorities of work and family, its been found that less educated and lower paid workers are the least likely to make use of FMLA’s leave protections. In California, paid leave has shifted the pattern of users to benefit more low-income workers, revealing that this feature would make the federal law accessible to more vulnerable families.