Election 2020 Gillibrand South Carolina

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks at a women’s luncheon Reed hosted for her in Columbia, S.C, on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

For the fourth time, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is sponsoring legislation that would establish a national paid leave program and allow workers to receive up to 12 weeks of partial pay while caring for a new child or sick family member.

Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, reintroduced the FAMILY Act. The legislation would create an independent trust fund within Social Security. Paid leave would be funded by contributions from employees and employers — roughly $1.50 per week for each worker, according to the sponsors. 

Paid leave would be available in several scenarios, including the adoption or birth of a child, to care for an ill family member or to handle matters if a close relative is deployed for military service. 

The paid leave program would build on the existing federal Family Medical and Leave Act. Under FMLA, employees may take job-protected unpaid leave.

Three states, including New York, have adopted paid family leave. New York's program, once fully phased in, will allow workers to receive two-thirds of their pay for 12 weeks. 

Gillibrand, who is one of several Democrats vying for the party's presidential nomination in 2020, highlighted the need for paid leave. The lack of paid leave, she explained, is a major cause of economic insecurity and contributes to the wage gap for women. 

She believes the establishment of a national paid family leave program would also benefit businesses, especially smaller companies, because it would allow them to compete with larger corporations. 

"If the C-Suite gets paid leave, then the factory floor worker should also get paid leave," Gillibrand said. "This should be for every worker in America." 

DeLauro and Gillibrand first introduced the FAMILY Act in 2013. The legislation hasn't received a vote in the House or Senate, but that could change this year. 

Democrats control the House for the first time since 2010. There is strong support for the bill in the House. DeLauro's bill has 160 original cosponsors. Thirty-four senators signed on in support of Gillibrand's bill. 

Paid leave is no longer a partisan priority. Republicans have embraced the idea of paid leave, but they are far apart from Democrats on how the program should be constructed. 

One Republican proposal unveiled last year would allow new parents to receive paid leave through Social Security. However, it would mean delaying their Social Security benefits once they reach retirement age. 

The GOP plan differs from the FAMILY Act in another way. It would be limited to parental leave and couldn't be used for other situations, such as taking time off from work to care for a sick family member. 

Gillibrand on Tuesday described the Republicans' plan as a "false choice." DeLauro believes it doesn't go far enough and emphasized the need for a full paid family leave program.

"It really is long overdue," DeLauro said. 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.