By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — During the pandemic many of us worked from home and surveys show workers would like to keep that flexibility.

It’s also been a help when family members have been sick. Right now only 21% of Americans have paid family leave.

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The U.S. is the only developed nation that does not have a federal paid family leave policy. In Congress, efforts to change that have been moving forward slowly. In 2019, Congress approved 12 weeks paid family parental leave for some federal workers for the birth, adoption or fostering of a child.

The pandemic has fueled the push to expand family leave, making it very clear that workers need to stay home when they are sick. Now there is legislation that would expand the benefit to more federal workers. The proposal calls for expanding the 12 weeks leave to include caring for a sick spouse, child or a parent.

Republicans have come out against the expansion, calling it a lavish perk for federal workers at taxpayers’ expense. President Joe Biden has proposed an even more ambitious plan that would cover almost all American workers, including those in the private secto,r with 12 weeks of paid leave. The president would pay for it by raising taxes.

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Sen. Tina Smith was a guest on WCCO Sunday Morning.

“It affects many private sector workers who are often women and people of color working in low-wage jobs,” Smith said. “We have to figure out a way of getting this done and we’re going to push as hard as we can this summer to do it.”

Almost all Republicans have weighed in against any expansion, arguing that federal workers already get 12 paid holidays a year, and that taxpayers should not have to see their taxes rise to pay for a program that would cover most American workers. Democrats insist that paid family leave is the only way to attract exceptional workers, especially women, to the workforce.

The National Women’s Law Center estimates that since the pandemic 2.3 million women have left the workforce, largely because of caregiving and schooling responsibilities. That’s compared to 1.8 million men.

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You can watch WCCO Sunday Morning with Esme Murphy and Mike Augustyniak every Sunday at 6 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

Esme Murphy