Two Presidents to Mark 30 Years of the Family Leave Act

February 2, 2023

President Biden is set to host former President Clinton on Thursday, to mark the 30th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Clinton signed the Family Leave bill into law on February 5, 1993. The legislation guaranteed many U.S. workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off to recover from major illness, childbirth, or to take care of a sick family member. 

At the time of his signing, Clinton noted, “In 1965, about 35 percent of mothers with children under 18 were labor force participants. By 1992, that figure had reached 67 percent. By the year 2005, one of every two people entering the work force will be women.”

Yet today, roughly 40% of U.S. workers are not covered by the Family Leave law. And just one in four workers in the private sector has access to paid leave, with higher-paid workers more likely to have coverage. Only about 12% of low-income workers—who almost certainly need the benefit most—are eligible for it. 

In 2021, Biden pushed for paid family leave for more workers, but a bill to that end died in the 50/50 Senate.

Biden’s plan called for providing workers up to $4,000 in paid leave a month, with a minimum of two-thirds of average weekly wages replaced. The White House estimated the updated family leave program would cost more than $225 billion over a decade. Yet it failed to make it into what was ultimately a slimmed down climate change and health care bill that the President signed in August.

However, Democratic lawmakers have taken up the effort again. Last Thursday, about 15 House members announced they had formed the first-ever Congressional Dads Caucus to push for paid family leave among its family-centered causes. The group follows the creation of the Moms in the House Caucus in 2019.

And on Wednesday Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) were among Democrats who unveiled a legislative package establishing a federal paid leave plan and expansion of the 1993 Family Leave law.

“We have paid the price of not having a national paid leave program. It’s the price of people having to make that heart-wrenching decision of ‘Do I sit by my mother’s side as she’s dying, or do I get a paycheck to feed my children?” said Gillibrand at a press conference Wednesday.

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