Durbin: Let’s Get To Work To Ensure Access To Paid Leave For All American Workers

In a speech on the Senate floor, Durbin reflects on the legacy of FMLA ahead of the 30th anniversary, highlights his Caring for All Families Act

WASHINGTON  Ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act(FMLA), U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) spoke on the Senate floor highlighting the significant strides we have made for workers and the work that still needs to be done.  During his speech, he praised President Biden’s leadership for navigating us through the COVID-19 pandemic and one of the most daunting economic challenges since the Great Depression. 

Despite the progress made, Durbin noted we are, “Not out of the woods yet.  If you travel in my state of Illinois, which I’ve been doing in the last couple weeks, especially in Central and Southern Illinois, you’ll notice the same sign hanging in one business after another: ‘Help Wanted’…  While businesses are reopening their doors—and demand for goods and services has rebounded—America is still struggling with a shortage of workers.  I hear it everywhere, particularly in the health care section.  The shortage of nurses and medical professionals really creates a hardship… We have to ask ourselves, what’s the reason for the shortage?  Make no mistake, the decision by the Trump Administration to cut down legal immigration in the United States is one of the reasons… These immigrant workers are willing to take jobs many Americans would not take. They do their best to help their families get started in our country.  That’s the story of America.”

“The work-life balance is out of whack,” Durbin continued. “Today, fewer and fewer Americans are willing to work long hours for too little.  Especially when they have urgent responsibilities at home—like caring for an infirm parent or a newborn.”   

Durbin went on to highlight an Illinoisan who is burdened by the high cost of child care despite dual-income in her household.  She wrote to Durbin, “My husband and I both have decent jobs.  We have three children [the cost of childcare accounts for] over a quarter of our monthly take home.  All of our other bills combined don’t even equal that.  I can only imagine the burden on other families… No wonder unemployment is so high.  How are people able to afford or even find child care[?]”

Durbin also highlighted the success of the Child Tax Credit, a key Democratic priority in theAmerican Rescue Plan.  The Child Tax Credit reduced child poverty by a third and lifted nearly three million children out of poverty. 

Durbin continued, “This constituent asked if Congress has any plans to revive the enhanced Child Tax Credit we included in the American Rescue Plan.  I wish I could tell her yes but sadly the new Republican Majority in the House of Representatives does not even mention this as a priority… But beyond that tax credit, her letter makes one thing clear:  our safety net has far too many holes.  And if a parent working a full-time job can still fall through them, then clearly, we have a lot of work to do.”

During his speech, Durbin went on to recall the history of FMLA as we approach the 30thanniversary on Sunday.  In the decades since the 1993 passage, more than 315 million workers have relied on it to care for themselves—or their family members.  While we have made many strides with FMLA, it still only guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave for workers.  A 2021 study found that 48 million people in the U.S. provide unpaid care to a friend or family member, and almost 80 percent of them report having routine expenses related to taking care of their loved ones.

 “How does that help with the cost of diapers? Formula? Medication? Well, it doesn’t.  And worse yet—many full-time workers are excluded from the law’s basic job protections.  In Illinois alone, nearly 60 percent of working adults don’t qualify for unpaid leave under the FMLA… Here’s the bottom line: If you want to get the American people back to work—you need to back them up,” said Durbin.

Durbin continued, The Family and Medical Leave Act is a promising foundation—but it alone is not enough.   We need to modernize the American safety net for a new generation of workers.  Think about this: Over the next decade, adults over the age of 65 are projected to outnumber children in America for the first time in our history.  That’s going to make life even more challenging for the 53 million Americans who are—today—already serving as a caregiver for a family member or partner.  And this is particularly challenging for young Americans.” 

In order to address the gaps in FMLA, Durbin introduced the Caring for All Families Act with U.S. Representative Jahana Hayes (D-CT-05) to modernize FMLA for the 21st Century.  TheCaring for All Families Act will guarantee small necessities leave and make important updates to the definition of family to ensure a broader range of caregiving relationships are covered by FMLA’s protections.  The legislation also guarantees that parents and other family caregivers have the ability to take time off to attend a medical appointment or school function, such as a parent-teacher conference, without risk of losing their job.  

In 2020, the Department of Labor found that one in six people taking leave to act as a caregiver were not protected under the FMLA’s definition of “family.” 

“It begs the question: How many of those people decided to drop out of the workforce altogether?  How many of them were fired because they missed a shift because their child woke up with a fever?  Or because an elderly relative was rushed to the ER?  No one should ever have to choose between caring for a loved one, or losing their job.  TheCaring for All Families Act will help protect these workers by adding domestic partners, in-laws, grandparents, and other significant relationships to the FMLA’s definition of family.  And, importantly, this legislation would be a starting point,” said Durbin. 

“While it would expand job protections to millions of workers, it would not resolve one, crucial flaw in our safety net.  America is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not guarantee paid family leave...  That is shameful.  And for the millions of working Americans who have—or will—be a caregiver at some point in their life what are they supposed to do?  Take on debt?  Work even longer hours?  No.  We cannot settle for a system that abandons working families.  The American people deserve a safety net that prevents them from drowning.  A safety net that provides the peace of mind they need to re-enter the workforce.  And offers them the assurance that their government has their back.  So let’s start by passing the Caring for All Families Act, and then get to work to ensure access to paid leave for all American workers,” Durbin concluded.

 Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here for TV Stations.