As far as paid leave policy goes, the United States is ranked essentially dead last, a fact that both astounds and outrages citizens across the nation. U.S. workers must choose between family and work when faced with circumstances such as an illness in the family, aging parents, or a newborn or newly-adopted child, and many are forced to choose work. They simply cannot afford to put family first because they would not be able to pay bills on time, put food on the table, or meet other needs. In an effort to mitigate this problem, some states (California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey) have implemented their own state wide, fully funded, paid leave insurance programs, which have resulted in positive outcomes for both workers and businesses.
Yesterday morning, concerned Nebraskan citizens and some of our partner organizations, including Nebraska Appleseed, the Coalition for a Strong Nebraska, Holland Children’s Movement and Nebraska AARP, gathered to participate in an important conversation about the lack of paid family and medical leave offered to hard-working Nebraskans. The discussion was led by Ellen Bravo, executive director at Family Values @ Work and national expert and activist for paid leave policy. She was accompanied by local panelists Traci Penrod McCormick, expert on child attachment and bonding; Craig Moody, owner and manager at Verdis Group; Angie Gross, a mother who experienced challenges due to a lack of paid leave during her child’s illness; and State Senator Sue Crawford of Legislative District 45.
Traci Penrod McCormick discussed the impact of having access to paid time off on new infant’s health as well as the health of new mothers and fathers. The first few weeks of an infant’s life are extremely critical to develop a sense of what trusting, secure, and loving relationships are. It is imperative that caregivers are able to respond in a nurturing and loving way to the needs of new babies so that a healthy attachment is formed and the baby develops a sense of self-adequacy. Nurturing relationships are key to healthy brain development, emotional and social growth, and contribute to early childhood learning and later success in school. Paid time off allows both parents to establish this connection with a new child and gives them time to assimilate to their new roles as parents, together and individually, without the unnecessary stress of wondering how the bills will get paid.
Angie Gross shared her challenging experience of supporting her child through a battle with meningitis without access to paid family leave. She was forced to terminate her employment after using up all of her paid time off so that she could be with her daughter during treatment and rehabilitation. The difficult decisions that she faced during that time clearly highlight a need for paid family and medical leave that would make a huge difference for parents facing similar situations.
Craig Moody discussed his efforts as a small business owner to be flexible with staff needs. He understands the difficulty of balancing family and work and took the time to establish policy offering paid leave for family or medical reasons to his workers. His efforts show that small business owners who invest in their workers maintain staff who are talented and passionate about their work and lead to a positive work environment and business success.
State Senator for legislative district 45, Sue Crawford, has already begun gathering research to inform a bill that she hopes to introduce during the 2015 legislative session that would establish a program in Nebraska similar to the ones in California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. It is clear that the need for paid family and medical leave is there, and the conversations surrounding this issue have begun to take off. It is our hope that policy will soon follow in order to support Nebraskans looking to put family before work in times of family or medical emergencies without sacrificing their financial stability.