Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Press Releases

Feb 08 2017

Heitkamp Helps Reintroduce Paid Family & Medical Leave Bill to Promote Working Families & Small Businesses

Almost 46 Percent of ND’s Private-Sector Workforce Cannot Earn a Single Paid Sick Day; More than 62,000 North Dakotans Serve as Family Caregivers

Reintroduction Comes During 24th Anniversary of Family and Medical Leave Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. – During the 24th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), landmark legislation guaranteeing job-protected unpaid leave for specific family and medical reasons, U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) today helped reintroduce a commonsense bill to build on that policy by providing working families with the paid flexibility to care for their loved ones, while boosting the ability of small businesses to support and retain employees.

Heitkamp is dedicated to making sure both small businesses and working families can stay healthy and continue to grow. But in North Dakota, less than 35 percent of working adults are eligible for and can afford unpaid leave, and almost 46 percent of the state’s private-sector workforce cannot earn a single paid sick day. Those challenges can force hardworking families to choose between caring for their loved ones or their jobs – an impossible choice that often causes businesses to lose dedicated employees as well as money – in fact, businesses spend a nationwide average of one-fifth of an employee’s annual salary on replacing workers.

By making sure all Americans have access to paid leave – including for child birth and adoption, or to care for an elderly or ailing family member – Heitkamp is working to make sure North Dakotans have the support they need to take care of their families without losing their jobs. And in North Dakota, where 61,100 North Dakotans are currently caregivers to ailing or elderly family members, and 74 percent of North Dakota children live in households where both of their parents work – the need for paid family leave is apparent. The bill also levels the playing field for businesses large and small so they have the resources to provide flexibility to retain good, hardworking employees without forcing businesses into the red. The bill would help prevent difficult situations for families and businesses across the country, where men and women will lose $284,000 or $324,000 respectively, over their lifetimes because of the lack of paid leave policies in their workplaces.

“Working families are the backbone of North Dakota communities and our state’s economy – and they shouldn’t face the impossible choice of keeping a job which pays the rent and caring for their loved ones. We can do better – and that’s what this legislation is all about,” said Heitkamp. “Making sure both families and small businesses have the certainty they need to fully dedicate themselves to their work and their families isn’t just a core North Dakota value, it’s just good commonsense – both for hardworking employees and for businesses’ bottom lines. Life happens. Families welcome newborn children, parents and loved ones fall ill and need care – and businesses need to keep running. That’s the reality our bill recognizes.”

Click here to read stories about North Dakotans who, with the help of strong paid leave policies in their workplaces, have been able to continue their work as diligent, healthy employees, while caring for their loved ones as caregivers, new mothers and fathers, or adoptive parents. These stories reinforce why a strong federal paid leave policy is needed to support all working families.

Heitkamp has long championed fairer, workable solutions that recognize the need for work-life balance, including by supporting the reauthorization of FMLA in the U.S. Senate. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act – first introduced by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) last Congress and supported by Heitkamp – would seek to strengthen those provisions by  making sure working families have up to 12 weeks of partial income when they take leave for their own serious health condition, including pregnancy and childbirth recovery, the serious health condition of a child, parent, spouse, and the birth or adoption of a child. Funded through small employee and employer earned benefit of less than 0.2 percent of wages each, or about $1.50 per week for a typical worker – about the cost of a weekly cup of coffee. This legislation would create a self-sufficient program that would provide working families the flexibility they need without adding to the federal budget.

Last April, Heitkamp and Gillibrand highlighted the need for proactive, workable family paid leave policies both for working families and successful businesses during visits with local leaders, advocates, and working families in Jamestown, as well as Zandbroz in Fargo, a small family-owned business, where they spoke about the light of many small businesses that cannot afford to offer paid leave, and too often risk losing good employees when they need to care for a newborn or a family member.

Currently, the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave. The other countries that do not offer it are Swaziland, Lesotho, and Papua New Guinea.

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Contact Senator Heitkamp's press office at press@heitkamp.senate.gov