07/14/2014 09:38 am ET Updated Sep 13, 2014

Maria Shriver's Important Voice in Raising Awareness About California Paid Family

Passing a law is hard work. Making sure that it reaches all those who the lawmakers intended to help is even harder. California's Paid Family Leave law is the perfect example.

That is why I asked Maria Shriver to write an op-ed on the 10th anniversary of Paid Family Leave and speak to the vision we share for the future of the program. Because I've had the honor of working with Maria Shriver over the last five years, as the co-editor of the first Shriver Report and a contributing author on every Shriver report, I know Maria cares deeply about improving access to paid family leave.

Maria Shriver has been one of the most powerful voices for women in America in recent years. In all three Shriver Reports: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything (2009); A Woman's Nation Takes on Alzheimer's (2010); and A Woman's Nation Pushes Back from the Brink (2014), she has highlighted the importance of paid family leave as a critical tool to keep women in the workforce and boost our economy.

Now some are accusing Maria of playing politics with California's Paid Family Leave law. One critic charged that in Maria's most recent blog on The Huffington Post, she purposely failed to credit former state Senator Sheila Kuehl, the primary legislative author of California's Paid Family Leave law, who now happens to be in a contested LA County Supervisor's race against Maria's brother, Bobby Shriver.

But Maria isn't the only leader who has lent her voice to join the growing movement to raise awareness about California Paid Family Leave. She is also not the only one who isn't looking backwards to how it happened, but looking forward to consider what we need to do to improve this important program. Along with the California Work & Family Coalition--housed at Next Generation--my team and I have worked with leaders across the state and nation to leverage their voices in support of raising awareness about California Paid Family Leave. In just the past few months Los Angeles City Councilmember Nury Martinez sponsored a citywide resolution designed to make more Angelenos aware of California Paid Family Leave, and to support the federal effort to pass a national paid family leave law; and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote a powerful op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle explaining why the law benefits families, employers, and our economy.

The fact of the matter is that these leaders, who highlighted California Paid Family Leave's historic anniversary, also did not mention the role that Sheila Kuehl played in the development and passage of California's Paid Family Leave law. And it's not for a lack of appreciation. Sheila Kuehl deserves credit as the main legislative sponsor, along with Netsy Firestein, the primary advocate for the bill and former head of the Labor Project for Working Families, and Governor Gray Davis for signing it over strong opposition. And many, many others.

But this historic anniversary is not about who deserves credit, it is about the fact that after a decade of progress providing access to paid leave for working families across California to bond with a new child or care for an ailing family member, we have much more to accomplish. For example, as highlighted in Maria's blog, when California residents were asked in 2011 about their awareness of Paid Family Leave, only 43 percent said they knew about the program.

Maria was speaking out and lending her voice to raise awareness about this program in particular because of the very low level awareness in her own community. Los Angeles, where over one-quarter of all babies in California are born, have the lowest rate of awareness in the state--only 31 percent knew about Paid Family Leave when asked. Awareness is even lower among individuals making less than $20,000 a year and those with a high school diploma or less (23% and 28% awareness, respectively).

If we're going to tackle the shamefully low levels of awareness among those who most need it, it is going to take leaders with real megaphones raising awareness and advocates and partners rolling up their sleeves and making sure the program reaches those who have paid into the program and now need to utilize it.

Maria has the megaphone needed to spread the word, and she's willing to use it, helping women who too often have limited voices in our political process and are often too busy and stressed to find the help they need on their own. We should commend her for putting politics aside and showing great leadership on this issue, and for recognizing early on the benefits of paid leave to parents and caregivers, California's diverse communities and our economy.

In addition to Maria's strong voice, state officials, elected leaders, and representatives of California workers recently joined me in Sacramento to call attention to the support California Paid Family Leave has provided to 1.8 million Californians over the last 10 years, and speak to the real work still to do.

Thanks to all who have written, spoken out, and called attention to California's Paid Family Leave law on its 10th anniversary, and to Governor Brown, who signed a budget including funds to raise awareness about the program, more Californians who most need the law will learn about it and be able to use it.