by Marilyn Watkins
Father’s Day generates less sentimental gushing than Mother’s Day. But as this Father’s Day approaches, I’m reminded that just as struggling moms need fair pay and paid family leave a lot more than flowers, fathers need these policies, too –more than a new tie or camping toaster.
My friend, Gabriela, has spent most of the past two months with her father in hospitals and doctors’ offices. In a few short weeks, he transformed from fit and lively to a weak old man with cancer and a slew of health complications. With her sister juggling two jobs, Gabriela has been the one to take time off work and help her parents navigate through the complex maze of specialists, tests, and insurance forms, while they’ve sought a diagnosis and treatment plan.
My young neighbor Patrick is eagerly awaiting the birth of his first child next month. But he won’t get to spend the rest of the summer as he’d like, caring for his new son and making sure his wife, Caitlin, gets some rest. He’ll be able to take only three weeks off before returning to full days at the office. Caitlin’s maternity leave will be completely unpaid.
If they lived in California where Patrick’s company is based instead of in Washington, they would each qualify for six weeks of paid family leave through the state-run insurance program, and Caitlin would have several additional weeks of paid disability leave during her recovery. That’s better for the baby, the mom, and the dad.
And it’s not just individuals who benefit from access to paid family leave. We know from experience in other states that taxpayers, businesses, and communities are better off, too.
Every child deserves a good start in life, with loving, unstressed parents nurturing them – regardless of geography or economic class. In the five states with family and/or disability leave insurance that assures most women get some paid maternity leave, babies are breastfed longer and have better access to well-baby care –improving their long-term health and access to opportunity. (In addition to California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, and Hawaii have these programs.)
New moms in these states have fewer health complications, are less likely to go on public assistance, and are more likely to be working and for higher wages than women in other states. And the dads take longer paternity leaves. Studies have shown that when fathers forge those early bonds, they are more likely to stay involved with their child long term, with countless emotional, intellectual, and financial benefits for that child.
Having family members present through serious illnesses and final days should also not be a matter of luck. Anybody who’s been through what Gabriela is going through knows that the quality of medical care is higher when family members are there to advocate, coordinate, and participate.
Costs to the health system and state also go down. A Republican legislator who voted against Rhode Island’s paid family leave program is reported to support it now that he’s seen it operate, saying: “If you’re going to keep people out of nursing homes and facilities, you need someone at home to help. Grandma can go home quicker after surgery if someone is at home to make sure she is okay.”
Businesses prosper, too, when employees can take the time they need for family care without facing financial calamity. Productivity goes up, costly turnover goes down. And the boost in family economic security means customers have a little more to spend in local businesses.
We have a simple solution for my friends Patrick and Gabriela, and the thousands of others who are struggling to both provide and care for their families. Earlier this year, the FAMLI Act passed through one committee in the Washington State House, but stalled there. It would provide workers with up to 12 weeks of family or disability leave with partial pay, to care for a close family member – or if they get cancer or are struck by a car themselves. As in the other states with these systems, workers and employers would pay a small payroll premium of one or two dollars a week into the trust fund to cover costs.
Next January our legislators have another shot at passing the FAMLI Act. So this Father’s Day, how about sending a note to your state legislators, asking them to prioritize passing family leave next year, for all the dads and moms and sons and daughters in Washington state.