Press Statement
“20 Years Ago Today, America Became a More Family Friendly Nation — But That Work Is Not Nearly Done,” Ness Says on 20th Anniversary of the FMLA

Twenty years ago today, America became a more family friendly nation. When President Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), he made it possible for millions of mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, and sons and daughters to both get and provide critical care without risking their jobs or their health insurance. Two decades later, an entire generation considers job-protected, unpaid leave under the FMLA a fundamental right.

As the organization that drafted and led the fight for this groundbreaking legislation, the National Partnership — then the Women’s Legal Defense Fund — is proud of the tremendous impact the FMLA has had. It has been used more than 100 million times by women who needed medical care during difficult pregnancies, fathers who took time to care for children fighting cancer, adult sons and daughters caring for frail parents, and workers taking time to recover from their own serious illnesses. The FMLA has been an unqualified success.

But 40 percent of the workforce is not covered by the FMLA’s protections, and millions more simply cannot afford to take the unpaid leave it provides. For them, our country is far from family friendly. As yesterday’s data from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) shows, the FMLA is working well for the people who can use it, and for businesses, but too many workers do not have access to the protections it provides. Being unable to afford unpaid leave is the most common reason workers who are covered by the law say they didn’t take leave when they needed it.*

We always intended the FMLA to be a first step on the road to a family friendly nation. Sadly, 20 years later, the nation has failed to take the next one. Our work is not nearly done.

Fortunately, there are significant opportunities for progress on the horizon. Congress must prioritize proposals to expand the FMLA and establish a paid family and medical leave insurance program. There is a growing body of research that shows the benefits of these measures — and that Americans across demographic and party lines want and urgently need them. Twenty years ago, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, along with a broad and diverse coalition of advocates, came together for the good of the nation. We must do it again.”

*A more detailed analysis of the findings from the Department of Labor’s new study is here.

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About the National Partnership for Women & Families

The National Partnership for Women & Families is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, reproductive health and rights, access to quality, affordable health care and policies that help all people meet the dual demands of work and family.

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