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As Democrats work to whittle down the price tag of their social spending bill, many key policies that would impact the lives of millions of Americans are on the chopping block. One issue that’s been renegotiated is a national paid leave policy — cut down from the initial proposal of 12 weeks to four weeks. We hear from Americans across the country about how this issue has impacted their lives.
As we have reported, Democrats are trying to whittle down the price tag of their social spending bill, and among the ideas that could be cut is a national paid family leave program.
President Biden originally proposed 12 weeks. As we reported, Democrats have tentatively agreed to cut that to four weeks, and even further cuts are still under consideration.
As this hangs in the balance, we checked in with people across the country about how this issue has impacted their lives.
Raena Boston, Florida:
Hi. I'm Raena Boston. I am from Tampa, Florida, and I work in human resources for a professional services firm.
Kris Garcia, Colorado:
My name is Kris Garcia. I live in Denver, Colorado, and I am a mechanical assembler. And I am also a ramp agent for a major airline company.
Nya Marshall, Michigan:
My name is Nya Marshall. I am a restaurateur from the great city of Detroit, Michigan.
Christina Hayes, Michigan:
My name is Christina Hayes. I'm from Inkster, Michigan.
At my previous job, I was working in a call center for a cable company, and I did not have access to paid leave at that time. So, I had to work and struggle because I'm a lupus warrior.
Between both jobs, I maybe have three weeks total, but not necessarily concurrently.
I am two weeks postpartum, so I have a 2-week-old, and I am on my second week of paid leave. We have, I believe, a total of 14 weeks paid total.
We can go up to six months unpaid after that point. And it's been a huge difference between my previous postpartum experiences. I have two other children.
I am a small business. I own a restaurant in the city of Detroit called Ivy Kitchen and Cocktails.
We do not offer paid leave, currently. We simply can't afford it. Restaurant margins are already small. And since the pandemic, they have even gotten more narrow, if you will.
And so, in 2009, I actually had to take my dad off of life support while I was at work.
So, at the time, I worked as an assistant manager for an auto parts company, and I had been requesting some time off for several months to try and go down and be with my father. Unfortunately, I kept getting denied.
Treatment for lupus includes, like, regular doctor visits, chemo treatments, steroid treatments.
So, due to not having paid leave, I was not going to my doctor appointments and getting my checkups that I needed. And it came down to the point where my health made the decision for me, and I ended up passing out at work and had to be taken out on a stretcher.
I didn't even get to see them really bury my father, because I left to come back to work. So, all in all, I ended up out of work for almost a week, about a week-and-a-half. And, financially, it took me almost six-and-a-half months to recover.
Going into this leave knowing that I had 14 weeks paid, not only did it reduce the stress, but I also felt valued as a person who just happens to be a part of a partnership that gives birth, that my time and my contributions are valuable.
Most small business owners, we're not rich, we're not wealthy. You know what I mean? Most of us do what we do, because we love it.
And I know my restaurant is a labor of love for my community. You know what I mean? I'm not getting rich off of it at all. And so, if I were forced to do something like that, then I would really strongly have to evaluate the total cost of implementing that program, and it might even actually close my doors. I'm not sure.
Those personal stories are a good illustration of what this debate over paid family leave is all about.
Let's widen out now to look at the larger situation in the U.S.
Jody Heymann studies this as part of her work at the WORLD Policy Analysis Center at UCLA.
Jody Heymann, welcome to the "NewsHour."
First of all, give us a sense of how much of the developed world already does offer some sort of paid leave for employees.
Jody Heymann, Founding Director, WORLD Policy Analysis Center:
Nearly the entire world, not just high-income, but low- and middle-income countries offered paid leave.
So, 181 countries out of 192 offer paid sick leave. Even more, 185, offer paid maternity leave, about half as many paid leave for dads. It's overwhelmingly what countries do.
There's still a lot we don't know about what Congress is discussing, and certainly not what they're going to end up with, but the reporting is that what was in the original proposal, 12 weeks of paid family leave, they're looking at cutting that possibly to four weeks.
How much difference would that make?
Going down to four weeks would be a huge loss.
I think we just have to think about the circumstances, first, someone getting sick. If someone has cancer, they're not going to be treated and well four weeks later. If someone has a heart attack, being able to return to physical labor that fast, not likely.
And, importantly, we know we can afford it. Again, over 130 countries actually offer 12 weeks or more. So, how can they afford it? Because it saves money to do it, among other things. It makes people healthier. But we wouldn't have had the kind of shutdowns with COVID if we'd had better paid sick leave.
And, again, we don't know how much government subsidy could end up being involved.
But as we heard from small business owners like Nya Marshall, one of the Americans we heard from a minute ago, they're concerned that, if they have to do this, it could cost them so much, they might not be able to keep their business open.
I think it's incredibly important to speak to small businesses on this.
And here's what I would like to say to our colleagues who own or run small businesses. Again, nearly all the world covers small business without exemption for size. Why? Because government helps.
So, the restaurateur we heard from, she shouldn't have to pay the paid leave. That's what the social insurance system is for. And that's how most to have the world does it. They do it in ways that government support for the insurance system means it's not coming out of the pockets out of the pockets of small business.
Importantly, small business can save money because their workers will be healthier, because there will be less spread of infectious disease, there will be less chronic illness. Their health care costs can come down.
And, Jody Heymann, one of the arguments from some Republican members of Congress is they might be willing to go along with parental leave, a parent leaving to take care of a child, but not so much for family leave or for caregiving for another family member.
What about that, making that distinction?
I think it's important we talk about all three elements, the parental leave, which you already mentioned, the paid sick leave.
I want to highlight again we just came out of this pandemic, trillions of dollars because of the spread. We are one of the few countries — all of the countries that didn't have national sick leave, they did worse in the pandemic. So there's a lot of savings in pandemic years, but also in regular years with influenza, diarrheal diseases, lower rates of chronic conditions.
What about the third kind of leave, leave for a family member who's sick? I think one thing we can think about is, can that leave be shared across multiple family members, so, for each family member, it's shorter, but the total amount of leave is there?
Judy Woodruff And no question we are looking at many — in many cases, at individuals at the lower end of the income scale, the ones who most need this kind of support.
Jody Heymann, who's with the WORLD Policy Analysis Center at UCLA, thank you very much.
Thank you so much, Judy.
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Saher Khan is a reporter-producer for the PBS NewsHour.
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