Paid family and medical leave would help families, boost economy

Stock photo from Getty Images.

Family is the backbone of our country. It’s important for people to be able to care for their family when it matters most — at birth, when a personal medical crisis strikes, or when a family member is facing a long term illness and requires care. Paid family and medical leave is an investment in families and offers critical support to those who need it the most. 

Today, the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, arguably the most powerful committee in the House, will hold a hearing on paid family and medical leave. This is the second full committee hearing this Congress on the topic. And it’s a big deal.

Committee hearings may not sound super interesting, but they are a critical part of our legislative process. It’s a chance for Congress to collect information to draft legislation and keep the legislative process moving. The House Ways and Means Committee is the committee of jurisdiction over paid family and medical leave. This means that in order for paid leave to become a reality for families across the U.S., this committee has to do their job and hold hearings on the topic, mark up the bill with edits to improve it, and then ultimately send it to the full House floor for a vote.

After a full House Ways and Means Committee hearing last year, this hearing today, and new Republican bills introduced in both the House and the Senate; the time is ripe for paid family and medical leave, and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle know it. Opportunity is knocking and it’s critically important the Ways and Means Committee mark-up paid family and medical leave legislation this spring and hold a full House floor vote before breaking for summer recess and the busy election season.

Ohio U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup of Southern Ohio is the sole Ohioan on the Ways and Means Committee. Families across Ohio need his leadership on this issue. Paid family and medical leave is not only an investment in our families, but it’s an investment in our economy. Paid family and medical leave is life-changing for families and game-changing for businesses and our economy. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that a national paid leave policy would add 5.5 million more women to the workforce, adding $500 billion to our economy. 

Our current system isn’t working. The Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, was signed into law nearly three decades ago and provides only some people access to job protected, unpaid leave. However, there are many exclusions under FMLA including size of employer, resulting in 62 percent of working people in Ohio who don’t even qualify for unpaid leave. Our families and our workforce today are different than they were thirty years ago. Families can’t afford to choose between having time to care and their paycheck. We need a modern approach that’s fit for a 21st century workforce.

This hearing today is an important step in achieving paid family and medical leave. Working families are the engine that powers our economy, and we need policies in place that support those families. Paid family and medical leave would allow families to be there when it matters most, whether it’s welcoming a new baby or caring for an aging parent or spouse with cancer, without having to choose between the income they need and the family they love.