How the FAMILY Act Will Help Direct Care Workers, Their Clients, and Our Economy

Earlier this month, DCA was invited to join a MomsRising “blog carnival” in support of a new bill that would make paid family and medical leave available to nearly all workers in the U.S. This piece, by DCA’s Jessica Brill Ortiz, ran as part of the series.

Read DCA’s press statement about the bill.

Jessica Brill Ortiz

Jessica Brill Ortiz

December 12 was an important day in the fight to help direct care workers and their families and other hard-working people in the U.S. On that day, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act), a national paid family and medical leave program, into Congress.

Under the bill, nearly all U.S. workers would be able to take a limited period of time off from work while receiving a portion of their wages in order to address a serious health condition of their own or of a parent, spouse, domestic partner or child. Workers would also be eligible for the leave for pregnancy, childbirth, to care for a new child and for certain types of military leave or caregiving for a military spouse.

Good for direct care workers and their families

As Rachel Lyons of the National Partnership for Women & Families explained in a Direct Care Alliance (DCA) Q&A, the bill would build on a foundation created 20 years ago by the Family and Medical Leave Act. The FMLA has allowed millions of workers to take job-protected leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child or seriously ill family member, or to recover from a serious health problem of their own, but about 40% of the U.S. workforce is not eligible for FMLA leave. 

What’s more, many direct care workers and other low-income workers cannot afford to take unpaid time off, and while FMLA requires certain employers to provide leave in certain circumstances, it does not require them to pay for that leave. According to a recent study, the main reason that people who are currently eligible for FMLA leave don’t take it is that they can’t afford to go for weeks without pay. The new bill would provide workers with a way to care for themselves and their families while receiving approximately two-thirds of their pay for up to 12 weeks a year.

Good for consumers and other employers–and the U.S. economy

The FAMILY Act would give direct care workers the paid time off they need to treat or recover from an illness or injury. That benefits consumers as well, since direct care workers who go to work sick or injured risk may put their clients at risk. Furthermore, studies show that allowing workers paid leave increases employee loyalty and reduces turnover, and lower turnover improves the continuity of care that is such an important part of quality in long-term services and supports (LTSS).

Paid leave would help employers by increasing employee loyalty, promoting retention and reducing the time and cost involved in replacing a worker (typically about one-fifth of an employee’s salary). In an industry with an annual turnover rate of between 44% and 65%, employers stand to save a lot of money—not to mention headaches—from reduced turnover.

Finally, workers with paychecks in their pockets are less likely to need public assistance, saving taxpayers and the government money. (About half of all direct care workers currently live in households that rely on food stamps, Medicaid, utilities subsidies, or another form of public assistance.) And they will spend that money in their communities, helping local businesses and our economy as a whole to thrive.

Read the rest of Jessica’s blog post on the MomsRising website.