THE BLOG
10/23/2014 11:41 am ET Updated Dec 23, 2014

I'm Running to Help Expand Family Leave -- Let's Do It in the Next Congress

We all face big life events that take us away from work. Right now, most countries in the world make it possible to handle those events -- having a child, caring for a parent or loved one -- without losing your entire paycheck or fearing for your job. The United States is nearly alone in not providing paid support in these circumstances, and it's time to modernize.

Let's start with an important and universal example. Working mothers all over the world are guaranteed paid leave when they have a child. They're able to stay home and take care of their newborns without worrying about where their next paycheck will come from. They might not get paid 100 percent of their usual wage, but they don't go from full pay to zero in the blink of an eye. The United States is the only high income country in the world not to offer that guarantee.

Our outdated system only allows 12 weeks of leave -- without pay -- to new mothers because we haven't updated the Family and Medical Leave Act since it was passed in 1993. It's not fair to women. Fortunately, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has a strong and comprehensive solution: the FAMILY Act. If elected Maine's next senator, I vow to cosponsor the bill the day it's reintroduced.

The FAMILY Act is good for mothers, and it's good for every other American who might face a life-changing event. In other words, it's good for all of us. It creates a fund to pay each person two thirds of his or her typical monthly wage when engaged in "caregiving" -- raising a child, caring for a sick family member, or any of a number of other qualifying life events. The fund is backed by employee and employer contributions of 0.2 percent of wages each. It's insurance for the changes many of us experience at one point or another at some point in our lives. It's fair, it's good for our economy, and it's great for our families.

The bill covers everyone, regardless of where they work or whether they're self-employed. As Sen. Gillibrand has pointed out, this means it would reach young, part-time and low-wage workers -- groups that often face the greatest hardship when having children, caring for family members or recovering from their own serious illnesses. Right now, the Family and Medical Leave Act may not apply to you depending on the size of your workplace.

I agree with Sen. Gillibrand that we need stronger worker protections for a stronger economy. Life doesn't cut you a break depending on where you work. Our laws should reflect that. There's no reason to force millions of Americans to make impossible choices between doing the right thing for their families or keeping their jobs.

I'm looking forward to supporting Sen. Gillibrand's bill in the Senate. The kind of security it would provide shouldn't depend on the state in which you live. At some point, most Americans will spend time supporting their children, siblings, spouses, partners or parents through a difficult period. Our economy is stronger and more stable when we can provide that support without risking our own futures.

It sounds awfully simple, but too many times, Washington forgets that our laws should make things easier for us. They should make things easier for working people, for mothers, for children, for parents, for everyone. The FAMILY Act does that. Let's pass it next year.