WASHINGTON — The U.S. bishops’ conference praised legislative efforts to secure family-leave policies, after a Senate bill was introduced that would allow new parents to draw two months of Social Security benefits while they care for their new child.
The bill, titled the “Economic Security for New Parents Act,” was introduced to the Senate on Thursday by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Dominic Lombardi, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ conference’s Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, told CNA that “the principle of family leave is an important one” and that new parents “ought to be supported in their calling to raise the next generation.”
“We encourage and welcome the ideas of lawmakers such as Senator Rubio in exploring effective ways on how best to provide paid leave policies for new parents.”
If Rubio’s bill were to pass, it would be the first law concerning family leave since the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA provides a 12-week period of unpaid time off for qualified employees who are caring for a relative.
The United States is one of only a few industrialized nations without mandatory paid maternal or family-leave policies, although some states and municipalities have passed laws requiring a certain number of paid, or partially paid, weeks of leave for new parents.
Only about 12% of American workers have access to paid family leave through their employers, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor.
“There’s nothing we can do for our children that’s better than allowing their parents to spend more time [with them] and be more involved in [their] lives, especially from their early days,” Rubio said during an appearance on CBS This Morning on Thursday.
The senator said it is “wrong” when new mothers are forced back to work within weeks of having a child to avoid missing a paycheck. The bill also aims to reduce the number of new mothers currently forced to turn to other forms of public assistance.
“It’s startling how many parents, particularly first-time mothers and people who just have had children in their family, go on public assistance because they lose their job or they can’t draw a paycheck any longer. So what we’re doing is we’re giving people an option,” explained Rubio.
While Rubio said he’d prefer that the private sector pay for family leave, he noted that this does not frequently happen. He also said that when paid leave is offered, it is typically only better-paid employees who receive the benefit from their employers, not lower-income workers who suffer most by missing work.
“But I can tell you, this is a real problem. If we are serious in this country about helping our children, it begins from the day they are born, by allowing their parents to be involved in the early days of their lives, especially. And that should not be a bankruptcy-inducing event,” said Rubio.
“This is one option that we think is pretty creative: to allow people to take their money, and instead of waiting 30 years to get some of it, take some of it earlier, when they really need it.”
The bill only offers benefits for new parents, not for those taking time off from work to care for other relatives. Lombardi told CNA that he hoped that future policies will include support for “all phases of family life.”
Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder of the pro-life group New Wave Feminists, told CNA that she thinks that the Economic Security for New Parents Act is a “move in the right direction.”
“I also appreciate how it’s ‘family’ leave and not merely ‘maternity leave,’” added Herndon-De La Rosa, as terms like “maternity leave” shift the duties of care only on the mother. New moms oftentimes need “just as much support after birth” as the newborn, she said.
“When moms are healthy — mentally, physically and emotionally — babies are healthy.”