Family Stability and Children’s Development: Why Paid Family Medical Leave for All Workers Makes Sense
The United States is the only developed, high-income country that does not provide workers paid family or medical leave. Some states have begun to change this by implementing paid family and medical leave—a policy that provides benefits for families, businesses, and children. For example, paid family and medical leave policies can provide families the time and space to foster their child’s development during the crucial early stages while keeping their health and economic status stabilized.
Delaware recently adopted a paid family leave plan for state employees but does not yet have a statewide policy that is accessible to all workers. A new bill introduced this session looks to change that so all workers and business owners have the what they need to care for their families and strengthen the economy.
Paid Family Medical Leave Legislation in Delaware
Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), introduced by Senator Sarah McBride and supported by the Delaware Cares Coalition, would create a statewide paid family medical leave insurance program that would provide up to 12 weeks paid family medical leave for a qualifying event. The bill currently includes the following as events that qualify:
- To address a worker’s own serious health condition.
- To care for a family member with a serious health condition.
- To bond with a new child.
- To handle safety matters for victims of domestic violence.
- To address the impact of a family member’s military deployment.
National and State Context
While some states have implemented versions of paid family and medical leave, the vast majority of workers in the U.S. lack access. Currently, approximately 85 percent of working people do not have access to paid family medical leave.
Delaware is one of many states that does not have a paid family medical leave policy. The state passed legislation in 2019 that provides state workers (including educators) with 12 weeks of paid parental leave after birth or adoption of a child under age six. While a step in the right direction, this legislation only provides some of Delaware’s workforce with access to the benefits that a paid family medical leave policy provides.
Some workers in Delaware are eligible to take unpaid leave, but even unpaid leave remains inaccessible for 54 percent of working Delawareans. Without access, many workers are forced to choose between job and family responsibilities. The pandemic has exasperated this problem for women, especially women of color, in the workforce. The National Partnership shared that the Delaware’s labor force lost 13,000 workers by the end of 2020. Even more startling, more than two-and-a-half times as many women were unemployed by the end of 2020 compared to 2019.
The Benefits of Paid Family Medical Leave
A paid family medical leave policy supports healthy child development and family wellbeing. It also can positively impact businesses, such as early childhood providers, and the workforce.
- Provides the opportunity for critical parental/caregiver interaction and bonding during the first months of a child’s life, when critical brain development happens. It promotes time needed for parents and caregivers to care for their infants and toddlers, without jeopardizing their income.
- Produces many health benefits for children with a reduction in infant hospital admissions, reduction in infant and post-neonatal mortality rates, and increased likelihood of breastfeeding.
- Provides time for parents and caregivers to find quality medical care for their child and attend well-child medical visits, which can improve rates of on-time vaccination and early detection of any potential developmental delays.
- Supports children and families by:
- improved health outcomes in early elementary school, including outcomes related to healthy weight, ADHD, and hearing-related problems.
- providing medical leave for parents/caregivers caring for children with significant medical needs.
- benefits for mothers’ health and mental health, as well as more involved fathers.
- Supports working families be more economically secure. Paid leave programs have been shown to increase household incomes and decrease the likelihood of the use of public support programs by working people in the year following their child’s birth.
- Improves the labor force participation of family caregivers, particularly women, who with leave, have a higher likelihood of returning to the workforce. This policy also helps businesses increased employee retention, an issue that plagues the child care industry.
- Supports equity, with families of color disproportionately lacking savings to cover unpaid leave, as well as higher maternal and infant mortality rates among Black families.
As we look to the remainder of the 151st General Assembly, we will be watching to see Delaware if becomes the 10th state to provide this important opportunity to support children and their families.
Resources to Learn More
Advocates across the state have formed Delaware Cares, a broad, cross-sector coalition in support of a paid family medical leave policy in the first state. A plethora of resources can be found on their site, with some listed below.
- Paid Leave Means a Stronger Delaware (National Partnership)
- Paid Leave Makes Delaware Families Stronger (Delaware Cares)
- The Delaware Way: Paid Leave is Good Business (Delaware Cares)
- Paid Leave Fact Sheet (Zero to Three)
- In Pursuit of an Equitable Start (PolicyLink)
- The Child Development Case for a National PFML Program (Zero to Three)
- Delaware Must Embrace Paid Family and Medical Leave (Liz Richards for Delaware Online)