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It's Time For Paid Family and Medical Leave to Empower Working Women and Modernize the Workplace

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Twenty-one years ago today, President Clinton signed into law the landmark Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA.) Passed with strong bipartisan support in both houses of Congress, FMLA provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in any calendar year for workers at companies with 50 employees or more to care for a newborn, adopted child or sick parent or spouse. In its 21 years, FMLA has been used over 100 million times to provide job security for men and women in the work place and continues to do so to this day.

But a lot has changed in 21 years. In 2014, women now make up almost 50% of the work force and single parents as well as dual income families are far more prevalent today, making it more and more difficult for workers to take unpaid leave. And the reality is, because women are far more likely to be the one to care for a child or elderly relative, this burden falls disproportionately on the shoulders of women, causing them far too often to leave the work force, resulting in loss of income, career opportunities and retirement benefits throughout their lifetime. In far too many cases, unpaid leave means families must face the stark choice between a paycheck and caring for a loved one. This is not a choice any family should have to make.

Hardworking men and women deserve not only job security, but also a paycheck when they need to take time off to care for a loved one. As President Obama said in his State of the Union address last month, a woman "deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to take care of a sick child or a sick parent without running into hardship." Which is precisely why I've introduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act) with Rep. Rosa DeLauro to begin to modernize the workplace and finally implement Paid Family & Medical Leave for every U.S. worker.

The FAMILY Act would allow up to three months of paid leave at 66% of one's income for the minimal contribution -- by employee and employer -- of, on average, less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week. Because it's funded by contributions by employer and employees, it's completely paid for and would not add a penny to the nation's debt. And because it is an earned benefit that would be facilitated though the Social Security Administration, the benefits would follow you from job to job and would apply to every American worker, whether full or part-time.

Because women would disproportionally benefit from this legislation, Paid FMLA is a central tenet of my Opportunity Plan to empower working women to stay in the work force and pursue opportunities that will allow them to contribute fully to the economic security of their families. When President Obama said "it's time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a 'Mad Men' episode," he meant it's time to raise the minimum wage, time to finally achieve equal pay, time to implement universal Pre-K and time to provide quality affordable childcare. And yes, it's time to pass the FAMILY Act so we can join the rest of the developed world in providing paid leave to every one of our workers.

Unfortunately, paid leave is facing significant opposition from some business interests, just as FMLA did 21 years ago. Back then, opponents said FMLA would be bad for business, yet according to a 1998 survey, just 5 years after the law was implemented, 84% of FMLA compliant businesses reported either no costs or actual cost savings as a result of their family and medical leave policies. And that same year, 88% of Americans who knew what FMLA was supported it.

Now in 2014, we're facing a similar fight and just as then, I'm confident we will prevail. Go to Off The Sidelines and here to learn more. Tweet and Facebook your friends about this important issue using #FAMILYAct.

The FAMILY Act is a commonsense measure whose time has come to modernize the workplace to reflect the changing face of the American family, so that finally, we can relegate having to make the choice between earning a paycheck and caring for a loved one to the dustbin of history where it belongs, a relic of a "Mad Men" era gone by.