The Roundup -

Heitkamp Highlights How Paid Family & Medical Leave Bill Can Promote Working Families & Small Businesses


U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp met with working women in Watford City to discuss a commonsense federal paid leave policy she helped introduce that would help support local families and economies by enabling working families to have paid flexibility to care for their loved ones, and strengthening small businesses so they can retain employees.

During her conversations with working North Dakota women – including teachers, nurses, ranchers, entrepreneurs and others at Wolf Pup Daycare, Heitkamp heard about the challenges working families face in trying to remain healthy, dedicated employees while being able to care for their families. Too often, North Dakota working families lose out when workers aren’t able to afford time to care for a newborn, a sick child, or an elderly parent. The lack of a federal paid leave policy also hurt small businesses that often aren’t able to afford to provide paid leave, making it hard to retain good employees. Across the state, less than 35 percent of working adults are eligible for and can afford unpaid leave, and almost 46 percent of the state’s private-sector workforce cannot earn a single paid sick day. That’s a big problem for businesses’ bottom lines – nationwide, businesses spend an average of one-fifth of an employee’s annual salary on replacing workers.

Heitkamp is dedicated to changing that by making sure both small businesses and working families can stay healthy and continue to grow. Last month, she helped reintroduce the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act to make sure all Americans have access to paid leave – including for child birth and adoption, or to care for an elderly or ailing family member – so they can take care of their families without losing their jobs. And when 61,100 North Dakotans are caregivers to ailing or elderly family members, and 74 percent of North Dakota’s children live in households where both of their parents work, the need for paid family leave is clear.

“North Dakotans know that small businesses and economies thrive when working families are healthy, but for too long Washington policies have lacked that commonsense – it’s past time to change that,” said Heitkamp. “Today I spoke with working women in Watford City whose businesses, hospitals and schools depend on them every day, but too often they are faced with the lose-lose choice of keeping their job to put food on the table, or caring for their loved ones. That’s a choice that no parent, loved one, or dedicated employee should have to make – and we can do better. That’s why I’m supporting sensible reforms to help both small businesses and employees pay about the amount of a cup of coffee per week so they can afford to take and offer paid leave when families need it most. If we’re serious about strengthening jobs, our economy down the road, we need strengthen options for working families today.”

Her visit builds on Heitkamp’s work championing fairer, workable solutions that recognize the need for work-life balance, including by supporting the reauthorization of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – landmark legislation guaranteeing job-protected unpaid leave for specific family and medical reasons – in the U.S. Senate. The FAMILY Act – first introduced by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) last Congress and supported by Heitkamp – would seek to strengthen those provisions by making sure working families have up to 12 weeks of partial income when they take leave for their own serious health condition, including pregnancy and childbirth recovery, the serious health condition of a child, parent, spouse, and the birth or adoption of a child. Funded through small employee and employer earned benefit of less than 0.2 percent of wages each, or about $1.50 per week for a typical worker – about the cost of a weekly cup of coffee. This legislation would create a self-sufficient program that would provide working families the flexibility they need without adding to the federal budget.

The bill also levels the playing field for businesses large and small so they have the resources to provide flexibility to retain good, hardworking employees without forcing businesses into the red. The bill would help prevent difficult situations for families and businesses across the country, where men and women will lose $284,000 or $324,000 respectively, over their lifetimes because of the lack of paid leave policies in their workplaces.

Last April, Heitkamp and Gillibrand highlighted the need for proactive, workable family paid leave policies both for working families and successful businesses during visits with local leaders, advocates, and working families in Jamestown, as well as Zandbroz in Fargo, a small family-owned business, where they spoke about the plight of many small businesses that cannot afford to offer paid leave, and too often risk losing good employees when they need to care for a newborn or a family member.

Currently, the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave. The other countries that do not offer it are Swaziland, Lesotho, and Papua New Guinea.


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