Chairman Neal Opening Statement for Subtitle A at Markup of the Build Back Better Act
Washington, September 9, 2021
(As prepared for delivery)
We will now turn to our first order of business, Subtitle A, Budget Reconciliation Legislative Recommendations Relating to Universal Paid Family and Medical Leave. This is one of the most profoundly important pieces of this entire package.
Throughout the COVID crisis, our country’s lack of universal paid leave inflicted an extra layer of stress and heartache on American families during an already excruciating time.
But this is not a new problem. Long before the pandemic struck, American workers have lived in fear that an injury, illness, sick family member, or even the arrival of a new baby might push them into financial crisis. Without paid leave, any one of these – or myriad other – scenarios could result in extended time off the job without money coming in the door.
And in many cases, people enduring these sorts of hardships may lose their employment altogether and not return to the workforce.
When COVID is finally behind us, all the other realities of life will remain. Americans will continue to get sick or injured, folks’ loved ones will still need care, and people will continue to decide to grow their families. And so long as the vast majority of those workers continue to lack access to paid family and medical leave, employers will deal with high turnover rates and miss out on talented, dedicated workers altogether. Families will have lower incomes and more stress, as women in particular, will continue to be forced to give up pay and other benefits in order to get more flexibility to work one shift at work and one at home.
To help workers weather these challenges and to assist employers that want to retain employees while also accommodating their needs, today we are considering investments to fund a comprehensive program that will provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for all American workers. This investment will ensure that workers can take up to three months of parental, serious medical condition, or caregiving leave when they need it without fear of losing their jobs and paychecks.
The Ways and Means Committee held two hearings on this proposal this year – one with women from across the country telling their own stories, and one with experts explaining how our plan would transform the economy for the better.
A vast coalition of advocates, including women’s groups, disease groups, unions, disability groups, small businesses, pediatricians, and senior groups like AARP have expressed their overwhelming support for our proposal and helped us refine and improve it. We are grateful for their assistance and their advocacy.
The benefits of paid leave are substantial, making it a smart investment. It improves business productivity, boosts employee morale, reduces turnover, and makes it easier for employers to attract skilled workers.
It grows and strengthens the labor force, provides income security to families who might otherwise need public assistance to make ends meet, and helps women stay in the workforce.
And with regard to parental leave, bonding during the early months of a child’s life provides significant positive effects on the health of both the child and the parents. That time also helps foster youth and adopted children fully bond with their new families.
It’s a sad reality that the United States lags behind the rest of the industrialized world in every category when it comes to guaranteeing paid family and medical leave. A mere 21 percent of American workers have access to employer-provided paid family leave, and just 42 percent of American workers have access to paid medical leave through an employer-provided plan. This puts our nation and economy at a competitive disadvantage.
This is also about equity. That’s because greater support for caregiving directly translates into higher workforce participation among women. Tellingly, workforce participation among women is 14 points higher in Sweden and five points higher in Canada, both countries that provide more consistent support.
Universal paid leave has the potential to address other inequities in our society. For instance, the highest-paid workers in the United States are over six times more likely to have access to paid leave than the lowest-paid workers. Women, lower-income families, part-time workers, and people of color disproportionately lack access to paid leave.
Today, we have a historic opportunity to support working families, strengthen our economy, and make once-in-a-lifetime investments that will lift up generations of Americans. Universal paid family and medical leave will transform our nation for the better. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting these investments.
I now recognize the gentlelady from Indiana, Ms.Walorski, for purposes of an opening statement.