Press Release
Testimony of Debra Ness, President, National Partnership for Women & Families

“Good afternoon Chairwoman Woolsey, members of the Subcommittee, and fellow panel members.  Thank you for the chance to talk about a law that is vital to America’s working families the Family and Medical Leave Act and how we can make it available to military families when they need it most.

I am Debra Ness, President of the National Partnership for Women & Families.  One of our proudest accomplishments is the Family and Medical Leave Act.  We wrote the initial draft of the bill, fought for nine years to enact it, and we remain its stewards today.  The FMLA is the only federal law that helps our nation’s workers meet the dual demands of work and family.  It provides unpaid, job-protected leave for up to 12 weeks a year to care for a newborn, newly adopted or foster child, to care for a seriously ill family member, or to recover from one’s own serious illness.  It protects your job and your health insurance.  Since it was passed in 1993, more than 60 million workers have used the FMLA in times of need to care for themselves or family members, without putting their jobs on the line.

The FMLA is without a doubt one of our country’s most popular laws.  More than 80 percent of employees surveyed by the Department of Labor say that all workers should be able to take up to 12 weeks of leave a year for family and medical reasons.  Support for the FMLA crosses all demographic lines.  And the FMLA has also been good for employers.  National research, conducted by the Department of Labor, indicates that the vast majority of employers say complying with the FMLA has a positive or neutral effect on productivity, profitability, growth, and morale.  The law benefits employers by helping them retain trained employees, keep productive workers on the job and create a positive work environment. 
It does have limitations, however.  It covers only about 60 percent of our nation’s workforce, and the leave it provides is unpaid.  Unfortunately, millions of workers in this country either are not covered by the FMLA, or cannot afford to use the benefits it provides.

We know that the Family & Medical Leave Act works. And we know that millions more workers urgently need its protections. Yet, in the 14 years since it become law, the FMLA has never been expanded.  We hope that is about to change.

With our nation at war and so many servicemembers suffering grievous injuries, we need to expand the FMLA so that military families can care for their loved ones without fear of losing their jobs or health insurance.  The President’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors recognized the importance of this law this summer when it made FMLA expansion one of its six broad recommendations.  The Commission asked Congress to expand the FMLA to allow up to six months for family members caring for seriously injured soldiers. 

We could not agree more.  The Commission reports that more than 3,000 servicemembers have been seriously injured during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Many return home with traumatic brain injuries, amputations and other serious conditions that require extensive, long-term medical care and rehabilitation. 

Many of these wounded veterans rely on the care of a family member for their recovery.  In fact, almost one-third of wounded service members report that a family member or close friend had to relocate for an extended period of time to be with them while they were recovering in the hospital.  About 20 percent of these wounded service members report that their family member had to give up their job to care for them.  How tragic it is that in addition to the enormous sacrifices these soldiers and families have already made, these families face loss of income and health coverage.  To care for their wounded spouse, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, they must jeopardize their family’s stability and economic security.  Expanding the FMLA will mean that fewer families will face this additional trauma.

That is why we are so pleased that both houses of Congress are moving quickly to implement this Commission recommendation.  Last month, the Senate unanimously enacted The Support for Injured Servicemembers Act, which amends the FMLA to provide up to six months of job-protected leave for a spouse, son, daughter, parent or next of kin of a wounded servicemember who is providing care.  The House should do the same. 

Thank you, Chairwoman Woolsey, for introducing a companion bill in the House, and thanks to Representatives Miller, Filner, Berkley, McCarthy and Skelton for co-sponsoring it.  We heartily endorse this legislation, and urge you to enact it quickly so military families can immediately begin taking advantage of the extended leave that it provides.  It is a modest and critically important step forward in supporting our veterans and their families, who have made such extraordinary sacrifices for all of us.  Thank you.”

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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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