Paid Parental Leave Is Also An Election Issue
While a number of advanced industrial countries now have paid leave for new parents as national policies, there is no such policy in the United States where very few workers can take time off after the birth of a child.
Some workers can take unpaid time off without losing their jobs under the Family and Medical Leave Act but most cannot afford to take advantage of it. There have been proposals to adopt a national policy by funding it through the unemployment insurance system and some states may be in the process of adopting a parental leave policy. Five states – California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, Washington – and the District of Columbia have such a policy. The DC plan is paid for by employer payroll taxes with a progressive benefits scale – low income workers can retain up to 90 percent of their income while on leave.
The issue is of growing importance to parents who lack affordable care or simply choose to stay home to care for their infants during the crucial earliest years of their lives. And by benefitting families, it also benefits the nation.
Actions in the States
Although in recent years most news items in the field of early child care concern action on the federal level, there have been forward motion in a number of states to advance the issue. In three states — Vermont, Oregon, and Indiana — Zero to Three, the organization devoted to developing healthy development of infants, toddlers, and parents, have been working with public and private groups to develop and act on state policy priorities in early child care. The goal is (1) to expand investment in early care, education, health and family support programs, (2) to strengthen the professional development of people in the field and support programs that improve quality, and (3) to get the states to adopt policies that promote access to health and mental health prevention and treatment.
Meanwhile, the American Federation of Teachers reports that residents of Santa Fe, New Mexico, turned out to flood a March 8 hearing of the City Council in support of a proposal to expand pre-k programs in the city by taxing sugary drinks. They were joined by teachers in early childhood education. Their voice was heard when the Council voted, 8 to 1 to submit the proposal to a special election on May 2. Speakers at the hearing decried the lack of access to affordable child care with one parent saying, “We pay more for our daughter’s pre-k than if she was attending the University of New Mexico.’
And in Minnesota, child care advocates were hailing the supplemental budget proposal of Gov. Mark Dayton for $100 million in additional funding for voluntary pre-k programs. The move comes even as Republican legislators are moving to cut early education in the state. “Gov. Dayton is making the smart choice by expanding access to high quality pre-school, which will pay dividends to our state for generations,” declared Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota and a vice-president of the American Federation of Teachers.