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The FMLA Turns 20: Why Taking the Next Step is Critical for Latinos and All Families

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By Debra L. Ness, President, National Partnership for Women & Families

This year is the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – the nation’s first ever law to help working people manage the dual demands of job and family. It is a time to celebrate the tremendous impact the law has had on workers, their families and our nation’s culture, but it is also a time to reflect on how far we still have to go.

In the past 20 years, the FMLA has been used more than 100 million times by mothers and fathers to care for their new babies, by adult children to care for their seriously ill parents, by women with complicated pregnancies, by men with serious medical conditions and more. The FMLA has meant that people across the country have been able to care for their health and be with their family members, without worrying about losing their jobs or their health insurance.

But the FMLA was always meant to be just a first step toward a family friendly America. And in 20 years, we have failed to take another one. As a result, 40 percent of the workforce still has no access to the unpaid leave the FMLA provides, and millions more simply cannot afford to take it. This leaves tens of millions of families without the basic support and protections they need to provide for their families and be the kind of employees and family members they want to be.

Latino workers and their families feel the pressure of the nation’s out-of-date polices more than most. New data from the Labor Department show that Latinos are among the workers most likely to report not taking FMLA leave even though they were eligible. And Latinos are the least likely racial or ethnic group to have access to any type of time off of work – paid or unpaid. At a time when families are increasingly dependent on two incomes and every paycheck counts, no worker should have to put his or her job and family’s economic security on the line when serious and often unavoidable medical needs arise.  

That is why it is critical that Congress and the president move the country forward by advancing common sense, reasonable proposals to expand the FMLA, to cover more workers for more reasons, and to establish a paid family and medical leave insurance program. These proposals would benefit workers, their families, businesses and our national economy. They also have the overwhelming support of the public, including 95 percent of Latino voters who support paid family and medical leave insurance and paid sick days laws (79 percent very strongly).

It is long past time for America to be a nation where all working families are able to care for their health and their families without risking their financial security. Let’s make the most of this historic anniversary by calling on all our elected officials to take the next step toward the family friendly America people urgently need. It has been 20 years. It’s time.

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To find out more or get involved, visit www.NationalPartnership.org/FMLA.  

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Debra L. Ness is the president of the National Partnership for Women & Families -- a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting access to quality health care, fairness in the workplace, and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family.

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Guest Sunday, 20 April 2014