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25 Years Ago, Congress Passed the FMLA. It Wasn’t Enough.

Anne Marie works at a daycare in Papillion. Anne Marie’s husband, Nick, is a nurse. They have two beautiful children, Ben, 7, and Maggie, 9, who were named after Anne Marie’s grandfather and Nick’s mother. Ben loves animals and wants to be a veterinarian when he grows up. Maggie watched Hidden Figures and wants to work at NASA. Between the two of them, Anne Marie and Nick live a happy, comfortable life. That is, until Nick had a heart attack, and had to take time off from work for his health needs. Nick and Anne Marie both have 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but between their mortgage, medical bills, and trying to make sure that their kids have everything they need for a happy childhood, things have gotten tight.

Twenty-five years ago, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

As the first national family leave law, it was meant to help people like Nick and Anne Marie take care of their family.  Leave laws allow workers to take time off of work to:

  • Address a serious health condition (including pregnancy);
  • Care for a family member with a serious health condition;
  • Address family circumstances arising from a military service member’s deployment; or
  • Care for a newborn, newly-adopted child or newly-placed foster child.

These are needs that every American is likely to encounter in their lifetime. The FMLA guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a year and ensures protections against retaliation for taking time off. At the time, the law was a significant step forward. It helps that Nick and Anne Marie don’t have to worry about losing their jobs on top of worrying about the finances and health. Still, The FMLA isn’t enough. Many Americans still lack access to even this unpaid leave, as the law only applies to businesses with 50 or more employees. In Nebraska, unpaid leave under the FMLA is inaccessible for 63 percent of working people. This means Nebraskans face serious choices when children are born or adopted and when serious personal or family health needs arise. If families do have access, they can’t always afford to utilize it. Like Nick and Anne Marie, many families simply cannot afford to take time off and still make ends meet.

Paid Family Leave Laws State-by-state

Some states have begun to make family and medical leave more accessible by establishing their own enhanced paid leave laws. But, of our 50 states, only seven states have paid leave legislation in place or laws scheduled to take effect in the next few years. Nebraska isn’t one of them, but last year, Nebraska Senator Sue Crawford introduced a bill, LB 305, which would create a paid leave systems for Nebraska where workers pay into a program that allows them to access paid family leave when they need it. This year, Senator Crawford also introduced LB 844, which would allow more workers to take sick time off or to care for an ill family member.

A federal proposal would also create a nationwide family leave program. The FMLA was an important first step, but 25 years later, it’s time to do more. No Nebraskan should have to choose between the job they need and the family they love. Every Nebraskan should be able to put family first in times of crisis. We hope or leaders on both the state and federal level will give this issue the serious consideration our families deserve and take the next step in ensuring all families have access to paid leave.

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