Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., was joined by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to rally support for paid individual and family leave, which they said would benefit small businesses as well as working families.
The two senators appeared Friday at Zandbroz Variety in downtown Fargo, where proprietor Greg Danz said he welcomed passage of what’s called the FAMILY Act. He said the legislation would help him support his employees when they are sick or must care for a family member who is ill.
In North Dakota, 62,100 serve as caregivers for ailing or elderly family members and almost three-quarters of children live in households where both parents work, facts that demonstrate the need for the FAMILY Act, Heitkamp said.
“Many, many times in America, people have to pick between taking care of their families and going to work,” a dilemma that imposes both a financial and emotional toll, she said.
Gillibrand, the prime sponsor of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, said every man or woman who works deserves access to paid family leave. In the United States — the only industrialized nation without paid family leave — only 13 percent have that benefit, she said.
That’s a burden not only to families but also small businesses, which cannot afford to provide the benefit and as a result often lose employees, incurring high turnover costs, Gillibrand said.
“We need to level the playing field for small businesses so all employees have access to paid leave,” she said.
Paid leave of up to 66 percent of income, capped at $4,000 a month, would be provided for up to 12 weeks under the program.
The insurance program would be paid for by a 0.2 percent payroll deduction–an amount Gillibrand said equals a cup of coffee a week — for employees that would be matched by employers. That compares to a 6.2 percent employee deduction for Social Security and a 1.45 percent employee deduction for Medicare, both matched by employers.
“This is a smart, pragmatic business decision,” Gillibrand said. “It’s basically an insurance policy that boosts productivity.”
Danz said he can’t afford to provide family leave for his staff of six at his family’s downtown shop, but said he could afford the 0.2 percent payroll insurance premium.
“We want what is best for our employees,” he said, adding that his younger sister had to quit work to take care of their elderly parents. “It was a sacrifice for her,” Danz said. “She had to leave her job in order to do it.”
Many people claim to be pro-family, but the slogan rings hollow when not backed with substance, Heitkamp said. The FAMILY Act, she added, merits support from conservatives and liberals.